In recent years, direct-to-consumer genetic testing has become hugely popular. Companies like 23andMe and Ancestry.com make it easy for just about anyone to learn more about where they came from and their genetic traits. While this information may be interesting and potentially life-saving, in terms of identifying medical conditions, it could also create some problems.
For instance, a genetic test could reveal biological relationships that a person never knew about. Such information might create familial drama, potentially affecting matters like estate plans.
When people discover a sibling, parent or other relative they did not know about, much of their lives can change, as one woman described in this Time article. The discovery could indicate a parent or spouse was unfaithful, upending marriages and severing ties between parents and children.
On the other hand, it could reveal family ties that were assumed lost or non-existent. Relatives can meet and learn more about their history and where they fit in.
Whether these revelations are positive or upsetting, they can change things like inheritances and end-of-life plans. Newly discovered family could make a claim for a decedent’s estate; children who learn a parent is not their parent could decide they want nothing to do with that person.
Planning for the unexpected
With all this in mind, know that genetic testing could affect estate planning and administration. For instance, a person who dies without a will leaves the door open for unknown or forgotten heirs to come forward and request part of the decedent’s estate.
If there is a will, an heir could contest it during probate if the testator did not include the person in the will. In some cases, a recently-discovered child could be eligible to receive the entirety of a parent’s estate, even if that person had a will stating otherwise.
To avoid the controversy, confusion and unintended administration issues, it is crucial to create and update a will if you know or suspect you have a family secret.