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Thursday, May 17, 2018

Father disinherited from son's estate for abandonment

Here is a twist on the usual stories we hear about people being disinherited. Usually the story is that a parent left a child out of the will. In this case from Kentucky, a father has been disinherited for abandoning his son.

A young man named Brandon died in a car accident when he was 24 years old and did not leave a will. His parents, being his next of kin, should be the people who would inherit his estate. Brandon did not have an especially large estate but there was quite a bit of interest in the fact that there would be a large settlement arising from the fatal car accident.

Brandon's mother objected to Brandon's father receiving half of the estate on the basis that the father had abandoned the boy. Brandon's parents were never married, and in fact it wasn't until Brandon was 7 years old that his mother sought out the father and told him about Brandon. The father acknowledged that he was the father and paid the amount of child support ordered by the court for a few years. The father saw Brandon only a couple of times. When Brandon was 11, his mother married and Brandon's surname was changed to that of his new step-father. After that, the father had no contact with Brandon and paid no child support.

For more detail about the facts of the family history, here is the story.

In court, the judge agreed with the mother that the father had abandoned Brandon and therefore under the state law he was not entitled to any part of the estate or of the accident settlement. The father appealed, but the appeals court also agreed with the mother.

It's an interesting concept from an estate litigation point of view because the crux of the issue seems to be whether the father deserved to inherit something. Most of the time, estate law gives a right to inherit to people regardless of whether they are deserving or how they have behaved. It's not a hard-and-fast rule, since all rules have exceptions but as a general statement it's the legal relationship that creates rights and not the quality of the relationship.

Brandon lived in a state where the law specifically addresses the issue of parental abandonment. I have looked at the law of several provinces and I do not see an equivalent provision. I suspect that our courts might have a very different outcome on the same facts.

I'd love to hear what you readers think about this. Should Brandon's father  have the same right to inherit as his mother? Is this a case of a disinterested parent suddenly getting interested because of the money, and if so, should that matter? Should a parent have a right to inherit just as a child would, even if the relationship was not especially good?

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