No “Wiggle Room” In After-Born Statute
January 25, 2010
In Matter of Gilmore, 1/19/2010 NYLJ 21 (col 1), Nassau County Surrogate John B. Riordan declined to expand the reach of EPTL 5-3.2 (the so-called “after-born statute”) to non-marital children known to, or acknowledged by, the decedent after execution of his will.
In Gilmore, a probate proceeding, two non-marital children sought to have their status as beneficiaries determined as a preliminary matter. The parties consented to have the Court assume the truth of the claimants’ allegations for a determination of whether as a matter of law those allegations stated a cause of action entitling the claimants to after-born status.
The decedent died in January, 2007, survived by eleven children, including three from a first marriage, four from a second marriage, and four alleged non-marital children. The propounded will, however, benefited only one child from the first marriage. That child, also the petitioner and named executor, was to inherit the several-million-dollar estate. The claimants were two non-marital children born prior to the decedent’s execution of the will, but allegedly became known to and were acknowledged by the decedent only subsequent to the will’s execution.
The court explained that EPTL 5-3.2 creates a rule of presumed intent for a testator who may have inadvertently omitted as a beneficiary a child born after he executed his will — “If he gave something to existing children and the after-born is neither provided for nor mentioned in the will and unprovided for by some settlement, the after-born shares in the gift to existing children.” Pursuant to an amendment to the statute (which merely codified existing case law), non-marital after-born children who can duly establish their inheritance rights are entitled to the same benefits under the statute as marital children.
The claimants in Gilmore alleged — and it was accepted as true for purposes of the motion — that nearly a decade after the decedent executed his will he underwent DNA tests which revealed to him for the first time that he was their biological father. Although the claimants were born long before the execution of decedent’s will, they claimed that as they were only known or acknowledged by their father after execution of his will, they should be accorded the same presumption of inadvertent disinheritance as after-born children.
The Court rejected the claimants’ argument, however, noting that pursuant to the clear and unambiguous language of the statute, a child is entitled to after-born rights only if born after execution of the will. The only reported exception to this rule — for a child adopted after the execution of a will, even though born previously — had no application to the case at bar.
Because the language of the statute was clear, speaking only of a “child born after the execution of a last will” (EPTL 5-3.2 [a]), the Court refused to extend the scope of the statute to a non-marital child who is known or acknowledged by a decedent only after execution of his will. “To engraft exceptions where none exist,” according to the Court, “are trespasses by a court upon the legislative domain”