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Is Everyone a Little Bit Irish?

What started over a decade ago as a service to learn about one’s genetic makeup; sites like AncestryDNA and 23andMe has had significant impact on the estate community. From inheritance rights to privacy and authenticity concerns, DNA sites have changed the estate planning process and the language we use to define someone’s heirs.

Individuals provide material for DNA testing to services like Ancestry and 23andMe and in return are given a report that includes not only locational ancestry, but also health predispositions, and for various potential genetic conditions.  As more and more individuals have used these services databases of connections has been created where individuals are finding their familial relationships to be different than what they were told and some have found relatives they never knew existed.

Inheritance Rights and Beneficiary Designations:  One of the most immediate considerations for individuals using DNA testing services in their estate planning is the impact on inheritance rights and beneficiary designations. In traditional estate planning, beneficiaries are often identified based on familial relationships established through legal documentation such as birth certificates and marriage certificates. However, DNA testing results may reveal previously unknown genetic connections like different biological parents, siblings, and children, potentially affecting inheritance rights and beneficiary designations.

For example, in a traditional will of a widower might state “The residue of my estate shall be divided into equal shares for my children who survive me.” The Testator, the person making the Will, is referring to the two children, Bob and Sue, he had during his marriage.  A few years later the Testator is contacted by a man, Chad, stating he took a DNA test and found out the Testator is his father.  If the Will does not define the children as just Bob and Sue, then Chad may be considered a beneficiary to the Will of the Testator.  Estate planning attorneys must navigate the legal complexities surrounding the validity and enforceability of claimed relationship based on a DNA site, and preventatively attorneys must be cautious in how children and descendants are defined within the estate planning documents of each individual.

Privacy, Legal Validity and Authentication: DNA is inherently sensitive information, if an estate is contacted by someone claiming to be a relative the decedent, the Personal Representative of the estate must approach the information provided and any requests for information with caution.  Ensuring the legal validity and authentication of genetic information before accepting or declining a claim against an estate. Estate planning attorneys may advise clients to seek additional corroborating evidence or authentication measures to support the use of DNA testing results in their estate plan. This could include obtaining legal documentation such as paternity tests or affidavits from genetic relatives confirming familial relationships. By taking these steps, individuals can mitigate the risk of legal challenges to the validity of their estate plan based on genetic information obtained from DNA testing.

As DNA testing services like 23andMe continue to gain popularity, their impact on estate planning will become increasingly significant. From inheritance rights to privacy concerns, the legal implications of incorporating DNA testing results into estate planning documents are multifaceted and complex. By working with experienced estate planning attorneys who understand the legal nuances surrounding genetic information, individuals can navigate these challenges effectively and ensure that their estate plans accurately reflect their wishes while protecting their privacy and the integrity of their genetic data.