For the first time, the Michigan Court of Appeals has had to interpret a law that allows a person born out of wedlock to be considered an heir.

The Law

Richard Daniels died in 2012. After his probate estate was opened by his biological daughter, Tonya, Jaime Leonard asked the Court to determine that he was Richard’s son and, therefore, an heir. Michigan law provides that if a child is born out of wedlock, a man is considered to be the child’s natural father (and therefore the child can inherit from his father’s estate) if the man and the child have “established a mutually acknowledged relationship of parent and child.”

The Conflict

It was agreed that Richard Daniels never signed an Acknowledgement of Parentage form. Jamie’s birth certificate did not indicate who his father was and Richard never signed a written request for a correction of Jamie’s birth certificate to show him as the father. Richard had never been found to be the father by a DNA test. Similarly, there was no paternity action finding Richard was the father. Richard’s biological daughter testified that her father told several people that he was not the biological father of Jamie Leonard.

The Court found that Jamie Leonard was born while his mother was living with Richard Daniels. (The couple was married after Jamie was born). Both Jamie Leonard and his mother testified that Jamie introduced Richard as his dad and that Richard introduced Jamie as his son. Richard allegedly told Jamie not to worry about what was on his birth certificate because Jamie was his son.

The Outcome

The Court of Appeals found that this was enough to “establish a mutually acknowledged relationship of parent and child”. The Court found that Jamie was Richard’s son and his heir and appointed Jamie as the representative of the probate estate. It is not clear if Richard’s biological daughter will appeal her loss to the Michigan Supreme Court.

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