Cleveland, OH asked in Arbitration / Mediation Law and Estate Planning for Indiana

Q: I have a deceased Father that I just learned about through DNA. The family is not forthcoming in any information .

I desperately want to know about the Dad I never knew. The internet is not helpful. Am I entitled to any info or possibly something of my Dads? Do I have to file something?

1 Lawyer Answer

James Whitney

Answered
  • Estate Planning Lawyer
  • Bristol, RI

A: I can relate as I found my biological father through a combination of DNA and paper trail research long after he had deceased.

Unfortunately, those in our situation have no legal rights as heirs or children without initiating steps to solidify our status as a child of the father we found.

For my part, I filed a petition in court for a name change to include my biological father's name in my name. Thus, my name now, by court order, is Arthur James Wilcox Whitney. This has little legal meaning, but it does provide personal satisfaction and establishes a first step in the process of gaining recognition by the family of siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews, and others with whom you deserve a relationship.

I was born in Massachusetts and there I am not allowed to have my birth certificate changed to include the name of my biological father. That is inconsistent with the ability to be put on the birth certificate in an adoption situation as the father even though the biological father often consents in order to avoid the consequences of a contempt of court for failure to pay child support payments. Having served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, I am hoping some day to find the time to have a bill filed to change this, but I have been too busy to do it thus far. This could be a route you may wish to take in your state with your state legislator.

If you could attain a working relationship with just one sibling, it would be a huge factor in allowing you to obtain information through his/her ability to obtain otherwise protected documents. I am fortunate to have a Wilcox sister with whom I have an excellent relationship. As a result, anything I wish to obtain which is not available to me I can obtain through her.

Finally, do not give up on attempting to establish a relationship with your father's extended family. When I was first rejected after a call, I simply asked if it was OK if I called again and I was given permission to do so. I then would follow up with a call in a couple of weeks and, over time, eventually establish a relationship with my sibling/cousin.

I realize most of this response has been personal rather than legal. However, in the situation of being a biological member of a rejecting family, your personal approach becomes more important than your tepid legal rights.

Finally, given that much of your rights are based on state law, it would be a good idea to solicit advice from an attorney in your birth state to determine your ability to be recognized as a child of your father. If you are not familiar with an appropriate attorney, looking for an attorney active in a genealogical society makes sense.

Best of luck and congratulations on finding your biological father as that is a major accomplishment that took 8 years for me.

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