Proper Beneficiaries in an Intestate Estate? Recent Case Discusses Time Limitations of Paternity Testing.
A recent case, Robinson V. Estate of John E. Robinson analyzed Florida law regarding the statute of limitations (“SOL”) on paternity testing when an individual dies without a will (“intestate”).
John Robinson (the “Decedent”) died intestate in February, 2004. In 2016, Michel, who had been born out of wedlock in 1980 and reached the age of majority in 1998, filed a summary administration alleging she was the Decedent’s daughter and sole heir. The trial court entered an order of summary administration and determined that all interested persons had been served proper notice.
Five months later, Vernal Robinson (apparently another heir) petitioned to reopen the estate and challenged Michel’s allegation that she was the Decedent’s daughter.
The estate was reopened and Michel filed a petition for release of a blood sample of the Decedent. Vernal argued that Michel’s petition to establish paternity was barred by the SOL. The trial court initially ruled in Vernal’s favor and vacated the summary administration.
Later, a successor judge granted Michel’s petition for rehearing and stated that, because the probate court was a court of equity, “if there is a DNA sample that could scientifically establish whether or not John Robinson is the father, it would be …an extreme injustice for this not to occur.”
Florida law imposes a 4-year SOL for a paternity action with the time running from the date the child reaches the age of majority. In 2009, Florida law was amended to provide that chapter 95 would not apply in determining paternity in a probate proceeding relating to intestate succession.
Vernal argued that the amendment to the statute extending the SOL does not apply retroactively. Michel’s claim to determine paternity was extinguished by Chapter 95 BEFORE 2009, the year the statute was amended.
Michel argued that, because the probate court is a court of equity, and, as the amended law provided that children born out of wedlock have a right to inherit from their natural fathers if paternity is established, her claim should be granted by the court.
Relying on prior case law, the court determined that Michel’s claim for paternity had been extinguished in 2002 (4 years after she reached the age of majority).
Further, quoting the Florida Supreme Court “we cannot agree that courts of equity have any right or power under the law of Florida to issue such order it considers to be in the best interest of ‘social justice’ at the particular moment without regard to established law. This court has no authority to change the law simply because the law seems to us to be inadequate in some particular case”.
ADVICE: The amended statute is very favorable to those trying to establish paternity in a probate proceeding. Rely on this statute if you are in the situation as Michel. Unfortunately for Michel, the amended statute is not retroactive. Thus, any time you are relying on an amended or new statute and your facts occur prior to the date of the amended or new statute, then be sure that the statute will apply to your particular facts.
WORD OF THE WEEK: A law that applies retroactively is a law or court decision that takes away a previously vested right, imposes new duties or obligations, or changes or effects prior transaction or legal actions. Retroactivity is not favored and generally the law cannot be applied retroactively unless specifically stated. Retroactive laws can also create constitutional issues.
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