No matter how old you are, the death of a parent is not something that is easy to accept. Along with the emotional impact of the loss, you must also deal with the practical and legal ramifications of your parent’s death. If you recently experienced the death of a parent, and you were born out of wedlock, you may have yet another concern – your inheritance rights. To help you better understand where you stand, a Phoenix probate attorney at Morris Hall, PLLC explains the legal rights of a child to inherit in Arizona if the child’s parents were never married.
The History of “Illegitimate” Children
Given how laid back society has become on the importance of marriage prior to having children, it may be difficult to believe how children born out of wedlock were once treated. Nevertheless, for hundreds of years, a child born to unwed parents had absolutely no rights. In fact, such as child was legally known as a “filius nullius” or “child of no one.” Not only did an “illegitimate” child have no right to inherit from the father’s estate, but the child also had no right to inherit from the estate of the mother.
The way in which children born to unwed parents were treated finally began to change in the 20th century. In 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state laws that denied illegitimate children rights based on their illegitimacy were unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause (Levy v. Louisiana). A decade later, in Trimble v. Gordon, the Supreme Court struck down a state law provision that denied an illegitimate child the right to inherit from her father unless the father’s will stipulated the inheritance. Finding no substantial government interest in denying inheritance rights to illegitimate children the court declared the statute unconstitutional, stating “(t)he legal status of illegitimacy is, like race or national origin, a characteristic beyond an individual’s control, and it bears no relation to the individual’s ability to participate in and contribute to society…thus, a statutory classification based on illegitimacy violates equal protection unless it is substantially related to an important governmental interest.”, the Supreme Court declared the statute unconstitutional. As is typically the case, once the Supreme Court struck down one state law prohibiting illegitimate children from inheriting, other states began to reevaluate and repeal similar laws.
Arizona Intestate Succession Laws
Most people execute a Last Will and Testament, at least in part to ensure that their estate is distributed according to their wishes after their death. If your parent failed to execute a Will prior to his/her death what happens to the estate assets? As a child born out of wedlock, will you be allowed to inherit from your parent’s estate in Arizona?
As is typically the case, children will receive a share of the estate of a parent who dies intestate (without leaving behind a Will). The size of that share will depend on whether the parent also left behind a spouse and on how many children survived the parent. What about a child born out of wedlock though? Is that child entitled to inherit just like a child born to married parents? In the State of Arizona, Arizona Revised Statutes Section 14-2114(A) addresses this very issue, stating as follows:
- Except as provided in subsections B and C of this section, for the purposes of intestate succession, a person is the child of that person’s natural parents, regardless of their marital status. If this issue is in dispute the court shall establish that relationship under title 25, chapter 6, article 1.
In short, the statute affords you inheritance rights from the estate of a parent, even if you were born out of wedlock, if it can be established that you are, indeed, the child or your parent.
Contact a Phoenix Probate Attorney
For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions or concerns about where a child born out of wedlock stands if a parent died intestate, contact an experienced Phoenix probate attorney at Morris Hall, PLLC by calling 888-222-1328 to schedule your free consultation today.