“Half-Bloods, Inheritance, and Family”

Ralph Calhoun Brashier (Cecil C. Humphreys Professor of Law, University of Memphis Law School) has recently published his article entitled Half-Bloods, Inheritance, and Family, 37 U. Mem. L. Rev. 215 (2007).

Professor Beyer gives us his conclusion:

Into the twentieth century, states retained inheritance laws excluding half-blood relatives in all or many instances. Some of these laws were merely antiquated property rules having nothing to do with the presumed intent of the decedent. By mid-twentieth century, most states had rejected these exclusionary approaches. Most states decided instead to treat half-blood relatives the same as whole-bloods. The UPC adopted this approach without comment several decades ago.

In recent decades, however, the continuing evolution of American family life has had a significant impact upon half-blood relationships. As more individuals procreate with different partners, more half-sibling relationships arise in society. Today, many half-blood relatives do not consider each other family. Many half-blood relationships are bitter and vicious; others involve no enmity, but also no interaction. Heir hunters and DNA tests now prove half-blood connections that neither the decedent nor his heirs presumptive had suspected. Taking advantage of the UPC approach, half-blood relatives have walked away with all or a substantial part of a decedent’s estate at the expense of those individuals the decedent had reasonably believed to be his closest relatives.

Survey responses concerning the proper treatment of half-blood siblings suggest the inadequacy of the UPC’s extreme position. One alternative is a statute permitting different distributions based on the decedent’s family structure and circumstances. A limited-objective statute might begin with a presumption of exclusion. The half-blood relative could rebut the presumption by establishing statutorily-defined factors indicating the decedent’s probable wish to include her. A second alternative, which departs substantially from traditional intestate schemes, is a statute granting judges significant discretion on the question of half-blood inclusion.

If lawmakers are unwilling to move beyond existing fixed-rule approaches for half-blood survivors, then they should look to the compromise fixed-rule approaches. These approaches are easy to apply and give predictable results. They include the half-blood relative in the estate distribution but give the whole-blood relative a larger portion. With all-or-nothing fixed-rule approaches completely thwarting the probable wishes of many decedents in modern families, the compromise approaches are the best of the fixed-rule solutions.

Thanks Professor(s)!

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