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DNA testing establishes beneficiaries

As the use of DNA testing becomes more widespread it is worth considering the role it plays in establishing beneficiaries, either under a Will or under the intestacy rules. As families become more complicated with people choosing not to marry or entering second or third marriages and having children by different partners the process of ensuring all those that are intended to benefit under a Will or entitled to benefit under intestacy becomes a more complicated task. This is especially true where there is any debate as to the paternity of a beneficiary. The legitimacy of a child born in wedlock is one of the strongest rebuttable presumptions (See Eldridge v Eldridge) leaving a challenger or this presumption faced with providing a high level of proof. Case law has also suggested that such phrases as ‘descendants by blood’ would actually refer to the testator’s intentions when the document was produced and that any facts bought to light many years later would not prevent the intended beneficiaries from inheriting. Under an intestacy the situation is slightly different in that DNA testing may result in revealing a beneficiary that is entitled to take in preference to others. A recent case heard in Northern Ireland proves this point. In Hegarty v Collins [2009] the deceased died intestate survived by his sister Mary and two other siblings. Mary had obtained a Grant (it being thought that there were no descendants of the deceased) and began to deal with the estate accordingly. The Plaintiff, Bernadine, instructed solicitors claiming to be the daughter of the deceased despite this not being known to the family. Evidence in the case shows that she had written to the deceased in 1994 asking him to confirm whether he was her father. She also received money from Alice Callaghan, the sister of the deceased who stated at that time that she had not known her brother was Bernadine’s father and if she had ‘things would have been different’. The Plaintiff presented DNA evidence to the Court showing tests that confirmed the likelihood of Alice being her Auntie and the deceased’s brother being her uncle. Accordingly the Court ordered that she was, in fact, the daughter of the deceased. The Court revoked the earlier Grant to Mary and ordered Letters of Administration be granted to the Plaintiff, as the trust beneficiary of the estate.

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