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A Windfall for the “Deadbeat Dad”

Marlene CooperI have previously written articles concerning the laws of intestate succession - California's default plan for inheritance where one passes away without having made plans for distribution of real or personal property. An important factor which goes into a determination of who may inherit involves an inquiry into the parent-child relationship.

Generally, a parent-child relationship exists between a person and his or her biological parents regardless of the marital status of the parents. Thus, once paternity is established for a child born out of wedlock, that child is entitled to inherit from his or her deceased parent and is given the same status as his or her half-siblings. This means, for example, that if your father had children "on the side", they could be considered part of his family for inheritance purposes!

While one could make a good argument that it is generally fair for a child to inherit from a parent, regardless of the circumstances, if we look at it from another perspective the inheritance laws lead to a result most people would not consider fair at all. I'm sure we are all familiar with the situation where a child is raised by a single parent and the other parent has little or no meaningful interaction or contact with the child. Assume the child grows up, goes to college and establishes a lucrative career.



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Assume further that the child, now a young professional, is killed in a tragic automobile accident. If that young person has no children, the law says that his or her mother and father are equal heirs. There is no inquiry as to who actually did the parenting.

Unfortunately, in this situation the absentee parent, typically the father, gets a windfall even though he was not there to raise the child and made absolutely no contribution to the child's eventual success.

Many people think that estate planning is for senior citizens; however, as the above example illustrates, there are plenty of young people around that should be making plans for disposition of their property should they meet an untimely demise. Why give a windfall to that deadbeat dad? © 2009 by Marlene S. Cooper. All rights reserved.

(Marlene S. Cooper is a native of Pasadena, a graduate of UCLA, and has been an attorney for over 30 years. Her practice is focused entirely on estate planning and probate. You may obtain further information on estate planning and probate at www.marlenecooperlaw.com. You may also contact Attorney Cooper directly at (626) 791-7530, or by e-mail at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . The information in this article is of a general nature and not intended as legal advice. Seek the advice of an attorney before acting or relying upon any information in this article).


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