Ask a San Francisco Peninsula Estate Planning Lawyer: “I Just Discovered a Long-Lost Sister. Can She Inherit Dad’s Estate?”

This may sound like a situation from a movie, but our San Francisco Peninsula estate planning lawyers have actually received a few calls like these. A long-lost child appears after the death of their parent. This is an alarming situation for so many reasons, but people often wonder if that child has a claim against the deceased’s estate.

The answer is yes, especially if you do not have a will or trust in place. When a person passes intestate (without a will), the state steps in to give you one. In most states, a person’s assets will go to a spouse, or a spouse and children, if a will is not in place. If that person does not have a legal spouse, most states will divide the estate among their children. All of their children.

Here’s an example: A 50-year-old man finds out he fathered a child when he was a teenager. The father has had no relationship with that child. The man currently has a long-term, live-in girlfriend and wants her to inherit the home they share. Should the man be worried that his estranged child will inherit the house instead of the girlfriend?

According to most state intestacy laws, which govern estate distribution in cases there is no will in place, the answer is yes. The child would have a right to his estate. For this man, it is advisable to create a will that disinherits his child and prevents him or her from taking his assets when he dies. He could also create a will that leaves the house to his girlfriend but also leaves part of his estate to his child.

Situations like this may be rare, but they do happen. If this is a concern for you, it is critical to seek answers to these types of questions with a San Francisco Peninsula estate lawyer before it is too late. To set up a consultation at our San Francisco Peninsula office, contact (650) 422-3313.

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