Mary Goodblood grew up believing that she was the only daughter of Cash Goodblood. One day, 25 years after Cash died and ironically after the lucrative sale of the Goodblood family business was plastered on the front page of the local newspaper, Mary received a Facebook message from a woman named Desiree that said “Hi, I think your Dad is also my Dad. Do you want to exchange DNA?” After doing some research, Mary discovered that Desiree’s mom, Candy Onenight, had a very brief relationship with Cash long before Cash and Mary’s mom married. What should Mary do? Despite the fact that Cash is not listed as the father on Desiree’s birth certificate, does she have a legitimate claim to any of the Goodblood family wealth?
Is Desirée the biological child of Cash (and Candy) – legitimate or otherwise?
The closest Texas law that speaks to whether Desirée is Cash’s descendant is the Texas Family Code provision for paternity and child support. No comparable statutes exist to resolve heirship rights. Before the Federal Child Support Act of 1984 Texas children (and their mothers) had no legal right to receive support from an alleged dad. All later Texas paternity laws – written for the Texas Family Code – focused on child support by a living male, not heirs. The Family Code paternity laws presumed paternity if the father (i) was married to the mother during the marriage, (ii) voluntarily accepted paternity on the birth certificate or by adoption, and other similar conduct, like representing the child as his. Then DNA came along and the Family Code added genetic testing, requiring at least a 99% probability of paternity. But, that’s for an alleged father and child support. Later – for those who die without a will (an intestate heirship proceeding), the Texas Estates Code allows genetic testing to prove the decedent’s heirs by referring to the standards of proving paternity under the Family Code. But those provisions do not apply to beneficiaries under Wills or Trusts. Before he died, Cash did not acknowledge – and no Court ever determined – that Cash was Desirée’s biological father. None of the DNA tests “swapped” between Desirée and Mary – nor the comparative tests of Uncle Trusty’s DNA – met the Texas Family Code paternity criteria. They all fell short and were, at best, inconclusive. Therefore, without a court finding of paternity or a settlement between the two girls, Desirée had no avenue for recovery.
Desirée’s Counsel Disagrees
Pointing to the Family Code provisions establishing paternity by DNA, Desirée’s Counsel maintains that while DNA testing of Cash’s brother is not the same as Cash’s DNA, it’s close enough. Desirée completes 8 DNA tests conducted by two different testing laboratories but only one test shows a possible familial relationship – and it’s only 82%. Undaunted, Desirée’s Counsel presses on to trial with some DNA test evidence of a relationship, an expert to support that interpretation, and good ol’ fashioned first-hand testimony from Cash’s brothers who know that Candy and Cash dated “back in the day.” Is it enough to establish paternity? Perhaps, if a judge or jury thinks so. But, is it that enough to establish a right to inheritance?
Family in Transition
After Cash died, his brother – Trusty – was anointed as being responsible to handle Cash’s trust assets (principally, the proceeds from the sale of the family business) for the benefit of Mary. Mary was initially thrilled that she might have a sister to hang out with. Mary’s Uncle Trusty just wanted to make sure that he was paying the right person the right amount. Mary’s mother Martha didn’t much care for the possibility that Cash might have a daughter she never knew about. Martha just wanted all of this to go away. What do you think that Desirée and her mother wanted?
Tilting the Scales – Finding Balance for both the Family and the Business in Transition
Careful thought must be given to both the strictly legal answers as the business transitions from one generation to the next, and the emotional/practical answers as the family transitions between generations. Both must be weighed to chart a workable solution for all interested parties.
This is the first in a series of Tilting the Scales articles on “real life” business and family issues litigated and resolved by Gray Reed lawyers Greg Sampson, Cleve Clinton and Bill Drabble. This Part 1 of “Illegitimate Heirs: Paternity – ‘Hi, I think Your Dad is Also My Dad’” addresses the first – and most important – of several questions that Desirée must successfully navigate to win at the courthouse. Check out Part 2 for our continued story …
No Legal Advice
This blog is informational only. The names have been changed. The facts and legal issues are sometimes changed to simplify or make a point. Seek advice worthy of your trust from someone with the necessary education and experience.