I 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. Where the parents are married, the child is presumed to be the child of both parents. Unless the presumption is rebutted by credible evidence, both parents are heirs of the child. 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 if (a) the parent acknowledged the child, and (b) the parent contributed to the support or the care of the child. This means, for example, that if your father had children "on the side", they could be considered part of his family for inheritance purposes if the requirements are met!
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 couple marry and have a child. The couple then divorces and the child is raised by the now single parent. 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. 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?
Copyright © 2014 by Marlene S. Cooper. All rights reserved.