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Can an 'illegitimate' child inherit from their parent's estate?

View profile for Leah Merrifield
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It is not unusual for people to have children from different relationships and ‘illegitimate’ children born outside of marriage. Whilst blended families are increasingly common and often have positive relationships, unfortunately, there can sometimes be animosity between the children, particularly when a parent passes away. In extreme cases, the children might not even have been aware of each other’s existence until their parent passed away, and parentage might be disputed.

Davide Del Curto was an Italian citizen and a wealthy businessman who died in a helicopter accident in Chile in 1983. Davide had three children: Julian, Gloria and Rita (who was illegitimate). Davide left a will, but it did not deal with his Chilean assets. Under Chilean law, Rita (as an illegitimate child) was not entitled to inherit anything from her father’s estate.

After proceedings in Chile failed, Rita brought a case under Italian law that she was entitled to a share of her father’s worldwide assets. Julian and Gloria opposed the claim on a number of grounds, including denying that Rita was Davide’s daughter, and denying that they had been aware of her existence. The Italian court decided in Rita’s favour, and it was ordered that Julian and Gloria pay her the equivalent of 2/9ths of the estate assets. It was also found that Julian and Gloria had been aware of Rita’s existence, but had denied this in an attempt to avoid sharing their inheritance. Julian and Gloria were ordered to pay Rita a sum to compensate her for their poor behaviour during the proceedings.

Rita subsequently needed to register the Italian judgment in England, so that she could enforce it here. In August 2023 the High Court refused Julian’s application to set aside an order for registration of the Italian judgement in England.

Under English law, if a person dies without a will their estate is governed by the intestacy rules. Under the intestacy rules, if a person dies without a spouse, but leaving children, then their estate will be divided equally between these children (regardless of whether their children were legitimate or illegitimate). This can lead to disputes about whether someone was actually a child of the deceased. In these circumstances it may be necessary to obtain DNA tests or other evidence to establish the relationship.

Disputes concerning parentage can be distressing and complex, and our specialist team will be able to support you if you find yourself involved in a dispute concerning this issue.