In a recent ruling by the Appellate Division, in In the Matter of Rogiers, a parent who failed to support his child during her lifetime was entitled to a share in that child’s estate upon the child’s death. According to New Jersey’s Probate Code, the intestate laws (which provide for the disposition of a decedent’s estate in the event there is no Will) allow parents to inherit from their child’s estate.
In the Rogiers’ case, the child was born severely handicapped as a result of a cervical cord injury at birth. The mother filed a medical malpractice action against the hospital and won a $12.6 million dollar judgment. The father had never supported his daughter during her lifetime.
When the child died at age 22, the father sought to share in his daughter’s estate. The child’s mother argued that he was never a real parent to her since he did not support her in any way. The mother also made a claim for retroactive child support against the father.
The Appellate Division in this case affirmed the Lower Court’s Decision that the father was entitled to one half of his daughter’s estate since the plain language of the Probate Code does not condition a parent’s right to take from a child’s estate on that parent having contributed to the child’s support. With regard to the claim for retroactive child support, the Appellate Division found that such claims may be asserted; however, in this case, the trust that was established for the child from the medical malpractice action adequately provided for her needs and therefore no retroactive child support was awarded.
Currently, there are two bills pending in the New Jersey Legislature which would eliminate the right of a parent who abandons or intentionally fails to provide support during their child’s lifetime to inherit from that child’s estate.