Modern technology has put research tools once only available to professionals in the hands of everyday people. With nothing more than access to the internet, we can trace our family trees back several centuries. We can now order DNA testing kits through the mail, allowing us to discover our genetic roots without leaving our home. But how does the discovery of a long-lost relative affect inheritances, wills, and your estate plan?
Most people who use technology to search for their biological roots are doing so out of curiosity or simply to make a connection with biological relatives, not for financial gain. However, a carefully drafted plan can address the issue of unexpected family members if there becomes a question of who can share in your estate.
For example, someone who placed a child up for adoption in the past but did not have any contact with the child or the adoptive parents may want to leave an inheritance for that child if they ever connect with the family. There’s also the possibility that a child was conceived without the biological parent’s knowledge, or perhaps someone who is estranged from their adult child doesn’t know if they have grandchildren or not. While people in those situations are not always obligated to leave any part of their estate to unknown relatives, they may want to do so for moral reasons.
Making sure that your will, trust, and other documents contain appropriate legal language is an important part of estate planning, especially when faced with such unknowns. For example, if you want your assets distributed only to your spouse and your known children, your attorney can make that clear in your will or trust. On the other hand, if you want to make sure previously unknown children or grandchildren are included, an estate planning attorney can draft your documents in a way that allows your wishes to be carried out.
Because of the potential complications and the importance of using the correct legal language, it’s important to be open and honest with your estate planning attorney. Disclosing the possibility of a “new” relative through an adoption, previous relationship, or an affair may be uncomfortable, but it’s necessary in order to protect your estate and your family, including any unknown relatives if that’s your wish. The more information your attorney has, the better he or she can prepare your estate planning documents to hold up under any unique circumstances that could arise when you are gone.
If you have additional questions about creating an estate plan that will protect your family, your wishes and your assets, we are happy to sit down with you to talk about your options. Simply call our main office to schedule a consultation.