Lawlink – What do I do about woman claiming to be my mother’s daughter following her passing?

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Q: My mother passed six months ago, my father pre-deceased her, leaving only myself and my brother in the family. We have been contacted by a woman in the midlands claiming to be my mother’s daughter from a previous relationship. My mother never spoke of having another daughter. My brother and I had a very close relationship with our mother and I would have thought that, if she had a child from a previous relationship, she would have told us. Where do we go from here and, if this woman does turn out to be my half sister, is she entitled to a share of my mother’s estate?

Dear Reader,

This is an unusual situation and the answer will depend on various matters. Parenthood can be established in a number of different ways, although ultimately may require a DNA test.

If your mother did not leave a will, her property should pass to you and your brother equally. However, the distribution of the estate is not limited to marital children, therefore you should investigate at this point this woman’s claims.

If your mother left a will, you would need to look at the wording. If the will simply says “to my children”, the lady in the Midland may very well be entitled to a share. If the will were to say “to my children A and B” (you and your brother), the lady may not stand to inherit.

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However, even if the will excludes this woman, there is a provision in Irish law, known as a Section 117 Application, whereby a child can seek a share of their parents estate if that parent “failed in their moral duty” to provide for that child while they were alive or in their will.

Whether or not a court considers that the duty has been discharged would depend greatly on if or how your mother provided for this woman, her own means, and the needs of this particular lady.

If your mother failed to provide in any meaningful way for this child over her lifetime, or via her will, then it is likely a court would feel she had failed in that duty. Every situation is different, and you should ensure that you consult with your solicitor.

It is important to note that if this woman was legally adopted, she is not legally classed as a child of your mother, and she would not be entitled to claim under Section 117.

There is a strict time limit in relation to these applications, so it would be best to try and move the probate application on as soon as possible.

You should immediately consult with your solicitor about the appropriate next steps to take.