What are the rights of non-marital children under the NYC estate law? Estate of John Jakobson

As a NYC estate lawyer one of the most common issues we deal with involves non-marital children exercising their rights of inheritance.  A non-marital child is an individual born of parents who were neither married at the time of birth nor were subsequently married.  Technically speaking non-marital children should have the same inheritance rights under the NYC estate law as children born within a marriage once standing has been established.  But unlike children born outside of wedlock, marital children enjoy a strong legal presumption of legitimacy pursuant to NYC estate law as stated in the landmark case Matter of Findlay, 253 NY 1 (1930).  It is a well-established precept that marital children are automatically presumed to be the offspring of their parents and thus entitled to inherit as distributees.  While non-marital children must first establish their status as an heir by clear and convincing evidence of paternity before exercising their rights as a distributee.  Pursuant to EPTL 4-1.2 of the NYC estate law there are several ways to prove paternity.

Prior to 2010, an alleged non-marital child had to clear two very difficult legal obstacles before meeting their burden establishing paternity.  First, the alleged non-marital child had to prove by clear and convincing evidence that their father held them out as their child by open and notorious means throughout his lifetime.  Only after surmounting this legal hurdle could the non-marital child then apply for DNA testing against material of the decedent if material was even available.  Thus, even if the non-marital child was the decedent’s biological offspring it would prove impossible for the child to inherit absent the showing of open and notorious acknowledgement.  Luckily, the legislature saw this heavy handed approach towards non-marital children as both unfair and prejudicial enacting new NYC estate laws to amend the rights of this group.  Some of these cases even went so far as the United States Supreme Court alleging that rights of this class of non-marital children had been unconstitutionally violated by the punitive and overbearing requirements under the NYC estate law.

Thus, on April 28, 2010, EPTL 4-1.2 was amended forever redefining the NYC estate law.  For the most part, under the enhanced rules a non-marital child may inherit from his or her father if paternity has been established by evidence derived from genetic marker testing (DNA) OR with a showing of clear and convincing evidence that the father openly and notoriously acknowledged the alleged child as his own.  This was a progressive change to the preexisting NYC estate law and was well received among both NYC estate lawyers and their clients.

Estate of John Jakobson

When John Jakobson passed away on April 7, 2017, he was survived by his third wife Joan, his three marital children and one alleged non-marital daughter he never spoke of.  John Jakobson was one of the first financiers on Wall Street to own his own seat on the New York Stock Exchange.  This was prior to the digital age when owning a seat on the New York Stock Exchange actually meant something making him very wealthy.  Jakobson’s estate is valued in excess of one hundred million ($100,000,000.00) dollars.  While Jakobson provided for his third wife Joan and three marital children in his estate the financier made no bequest for his alleged daughter Marina Squerciati.  It is alleged that Marina Squerciati was the product of a relationship between her mother Maria Squerciati and John Jakobson in 1980.  The alleged daughter Marina is a famous actress in her own right, starring in the television thriller Chicago PD.  Marina claims John Jakobson paid her mother child support for over twenty years on behalf of Marina.  It’s also alleged that Jakobson paid Marina’s tuition at the very private, exclusive and upscale Dalton School in the amount of $200,000.00 and then another $150,000.00 for her college tuition at North Western University.

However, Marina’s step-brothers and sisters as well as Joan Jakobson, John Jakobson’s widow are all pleading ignorance.  None of the Jakobsons are conceding that John Jakobson ever fathered or acknowledged Marina Squerciati as his daughter.  This makes it nearly impossible for Marina to establish paternity through clear and convincing evidence of open and notorious acknowledgement.  What’s worse is alleged non-marital daughter Marina Squerciati herself concedes she and her father kept their relationship a secret for privacy purposes.  As such to prevail in a paternity action under EPTL 4-1.2 of the NYC estate law, Marina would most likely be required to present clear and convincing evidence of paternity through genetic marker DNA testing.

If you or someone you love is the non-marital child of a decedent, you may have rights under the NY estate law.  Feel free to call an experienced NY probate lawyer at The Law Offices of Jason W. Stern & Associates, at (718) 261-2444 for a free consultation.  Our Queens estate lawyers have more than 50 years of combined NY estate law experience handling these often treacherous NY kinship cases for non-marital children in the counties of Queens, New York, Kings, Bronx, Westchester, Rockland, Nassau, Suffolk, Richmond, Orange, Dutchess as well as in the State of New Jersey.


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