Dear Moral Money,
My father recently passed away and left no will. I never met him, as he left my mother soon after I was born to start a family with someone else. His name is not on my birth certificate, and his (now adult) children had no idea I existed until I contacted them on his death.
I feel entitled to part of his estate, as he provided no support when he was alive and left my mother to raise me on her own. I have not had the same opportunities as his other children, and I believe that in death he should now pay his fair share.
However, this is where we run into problems. His other children, who also lost their mother recently, do not believe I should receive any money.
They say that they have spent a large part of the past decade looking after my father, who apparently had severe mobility issues. As I was not involved in this, and as I never met him, they don’t think I am entitled to anything.
I am worried they will use the fact he is not on my birth certificate to keep me from what is rightfully mine. How do I make sure I get my fair share?
CG, via email
Every year, thousands of people die without making a will, often leaving families squabbling over the estate. These situations can be complicated and fraught with emotion, even without the added complications of your own case.
You should firstly exhaust all diplomatic avenues. It must have been a shock for your father’s family to find out they had a half-sibling, and they may come around to your position given a bit more time.
If this does not happen, and you still wish to pursue your portion of the inheritance, then you are fortunate your father did not make a will. Had he done so, and not named you specifically, there would be very little you could do to contest it.
If somebody with no surviving spouse or partner dies without making a will in England or Wales their estate passes on to their children in equal shares.
The Family Law Reform Act 1987 gives the same inheritance rights to illegitimate children as to legitimate children. This means that legally you are entitled to the same share as your half-siblings.
However, the fact his name is not on your birth certificate complicates the matter. You may need to take a DNA test to prove you are actually related, which could mean asking your half-siblings to give samples. You will need to do this test with a court-approved company.
Your father’s children could refuse to provide samples of course, but according to Stephens Scown solicitors, in this case the court could draw an “adverse inference”, meaning it could infer your siblings are refusing because is likely to be positive. If your DNA test proves he was your father, then you should be granted your share of his estate.
You could also consider offering to pay a share of the funeral costs as an olive branch to your half-siblings if your father did not have a pre-paid funeral plan.
Best of luck.