Q. My husband died suddenly last year and I am the executor of his will. I recently found out that during a problematic time in our marriage, he stayed with friends in another state until our marriage issues could be resolved and he may have fathered an illegitimate child while we were separated. Do I have to mention this to my attorney? Will my children and I be penalized for their dad’s mistake? Can an illegitimate child inherit money?
A. First, I am very sorry for your loss. But, I have to say, I have a hard time with the terms “illegitimate” and “mistake” when talking about a baby that had absolutely nothing to do with his or her own conception. The way I see it: you were separated and you reconciled. He had a relationship while you were separated and fathered a child. As huge as it appears to you—and it is understandable considering the times when all this happened, but it’s really not that uncommon in this day and age. Over one third of all babies born in the USA are born to single parents.
Many people are faced with the very same issue you face. It is ironic that I am going to rely on the correct moral thing to do when many may think the child in question was conceived immorally. However, ex-etiquette rule number eight, “Be honest and straight forward,” seems to be the proper directive here. The “penalty” you are talking about is financially based, and if that is the case, although I am not an attorney, I’m guessing that the child in question has just as much right to his or her father’s estate as do your children. I suspect you know that, otherwise you would not have asked me. The truth is, if you don’t mention it to your attorney, the child may never know and you and your children can share equally in the bounty left by your husband. But, that doesn’t make it right. It is also important to consider that you are not the only one who knows this child was born and there may be legal ramifications down the road if you do not contact him or her.
There are other ways to approach this. This child is now an adult and although you may not want to contact him personally, he may have children of his own. I don’t know how much money you are talking about, but you may want to consider setting up a trust or a college fund for his or her children where you do not have to get involved and the funds can be dispersed anonymously. For that, definitely consult your attorney.
Dr. Jann Blackstone specializes in child custody, divorce, and stepfamily mediation. She is the author of seven books on divorce, remarriage, and co-parenting, specifically, Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce and Separation, Ex-Etiquette for Weddings, and Ex-Etiquette for Holidays. Dr. Blackstone is also the founder of Bonus Families,501 c3 non-profit organization dedicated to peaceful coexistence between divorced or separated parents and their combined families.