By Jason Stern
As a NY estate lawyer practicing in Forest Hills, NY, many of our firm’s cases often involve issues of paternity. Normally issues of paternity are resolved in the Family Courts at or around the time of the child’s birth for purposes of establishing child support. Pursuant to NY Family Courts, paternity is the legal process determining the father’s legal identity. Under the NY estate law, there is a strong presumption of paternity if the subject child’s alleged father was married to the child’s mother at the time of child’s birth. However, in instances where the parents are not married on the date of birth, there is no marital presumption of paternity and the biological father will not have legal standing or rights as the father. In fact, in instances where the delivering mother is unwed, hospitals will often times leave the box blank where the father’s name would ordinarily be indicated on the child’s birth certificate.
Should the biological father or mother of the child seek to establish the child’s paternity for legal purposes, i.e., child support, the Family Courts will order the mother, child and alleged father to submit their DNA material for genetic marker testing. Otherwise, pursuant to Section 207.05 of the New York City Health Code, the alleged father could voluntarily follow the protocol to legally acknowledge the child as his own thus becoming the putative father through his own voluntary acknowledgement. In instances where the alleged father legally acknowledges the child after the fact, the father’s name may then be legally added to the child’s birth certificate.
Once paternity has been established the father is legally estopped from asserting any later defenses to that determination after a requisite amount of time has passed. For example, where a father has either voluntarily acknowledged paternity pursuant to Section 207.05 of the New York City Health Code or where paternity has been established in a Family Court proceeding where financial support was previously awarded, the Courts will collaterally estopp (prevent) the father from questioning the child’s paternity. In a series of landmark cases following Matter of Findley, 252 NY 1 7, the Courts have repeatedly found that fathers are collaterally estopped from requesting DNA testing in order to disprove paternity once a prior Court has previously established paternity. In fact, despite their assertions to the contrary, Courts often wonder whether husbands are subsequently denying paternity of their children simply to avoid their child support obligations. Thus once a legal finding of paternity has been made, it is nearly impossible to reverse that legal conclusion.
As a NY kinship lawyer representing non-marital children in complex NY estates, it is important to understand the complexity and significance of these legal determinations for inheritance purposes. Pursuant to EPLT 4-1.2 (a) (2), of the NY estate law, Surrogate’s Courts look at similar findings of paternity in determining whether the non-marital child should inherit the proceeds of their alleged father’s estate. While NY kinship lawyers may enlist genetic marker DNA testing to establish paternity on behalf of non-marital children they are no longer required to do so. Pursuant to NY kinship law, if a showing can be made that the decedent held his non-marital child out as his own during his lifetime, then the NY kinship lawyer may thus establish paternity of the non-marital child. Furthermore, pursuant to EPTL 4-1.2, Surrogate’s Courts have also found that where NY kinship lawyers argued paternity was previously established by another Court or filing, so too should the doctrine of collateral estoppel apply to the issue of paternity in NY kinship proceedings for inheritance purposes. As such, if the decedent’s father would not be able to refute his status of paternity during his lifetime, neither should the Court allow other parties to question the status of the child’s paternity after his father’s death.
Estate of Steve Jobs
All of us know Steve Jobs as the man who defined the personal computer and the father of the greatest technological innovations of the 20th and 21st centuries. Anyone with an Iphone or Mac computer has to appreciate the genius of the man’s innovation and vision. However, the man many of us do not know is the respondent Steve Jobs in his paternity suit. Adopted and raised in San Francisco, California, the brilliant Jobs dropped out of College to found the most prolific company of all time, Apple. Jobs, himself given up for adoption at birth, impregnated his high school girlfriend Chrisann Brennan who gave birth to his daughter Lisa Brennan-Jobs in 1977. However, Lisa Brennan-Jobs only became Lisa Brennan-Jobs after her mother took Steve Jobs to Court in a paternity suit. In the suit Jobs alleged that Lisa was not his child, asserting the defense that he was impotent and thus unable to father a child. However, Family Court decided otherwise and ordered genetic marker DNA testing thus establishing Steve Jobs’s paternity.
Eventually, Steve Jobs formed a strong bond with his daughter Lisa Brennan-Jobs who would eventually take his namesake and go on to graduate Harvard University. Unfortunately, Jobs passed away in 2011 leaving behind a spouse and daughter, Lisa Brennan-Jobs. It is estimated that Job’s estate was comprised of an 8% stake in Disney stock acquired when he sold off his company Pixar in 2006, worth approximately $12 billion dollars. Jobs was a tumultuous executive who sold off his 11% interest in Apple in 1986 after he was removed from his own company. Ironically, Co-founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, had only a minor interest in his own company at the time of his death. Today Job’s 11% stake in Apple stock would be worth more than $65 billion dollars, making Jobs one of the wealthiest men in the world. Instead, it is believed that Jobs possessed approximately $1 billion dollars of Apple stock at the time of his death which was supposedly distributed to his one time, alleged non-marital daughter, Lisa Brennan-Jobs.
Perhaps, had Steve Jobs’s girlfriend not pursued the paternity case in 1977 both her daughter’s life as well as Steve Jobs’s life would have been much emptier. NY kinship lawyers provide invaluable counsel which can literally shape and reshape the fortunes for non-marital children in these often complex and hard fought NY kinship estates. If you or someone you love is the heir to a NY kinship estate, you may have rights under the NY estate law. Feel free to call an experienced NY kinship lawyer at The Law Offices of Jason W. Stern & Associates, at (718) 261-2444 for a free consultation. Our Queens estate lawyers have nearly 45 years of combined NY estate law experience handling these often treacherous NY kinship cases for heirs in the counties of Queens, New York, Kings, Bronx, Westchester, Rockland, Nassau, Richmond, Orange, Dutchess as well as in the State of New Jersey.