Daughter ordered to take DNA test to prove her entitlement to an estate

In a recent inheritance dispute, the High Court ordered a woman to submit saliva samples for DNA testing to prove that she was entitled to receive a share of her late father’s estate.

The dispute concerned the estate of Colin Wilson Birtles, a divorcee, who died on 16th June 2013.

Colin Wilson Birtles married Veronica Birtles in the 1950’s.

The Claimant Janice Nield-Moir and her sister Lorraine Freeman (the Defendant) were born to Veronica Birtles in 1962 and 1961 respectively. Colin and Veronica Birtles divorced in 1977. Veronica Birtles subsequently died.

Colin Birtles died without making a will. Under the Intestacy Rules, Ms Nield Moir and Ms Freeman each stood to inherit 50% of his estate.

Ms Freeman applied for a grant of letters of administration in respect of Mr Birtles estate.  Mrs Nield-Moir issued a claim for the grant of letters of administration to be revoked. In her claim, she alleged that Ms Freeman was not the biological daughter of Mr Birtles and consequently had no right to take out the grant or indeed to inherit the estate.

Mrs Nield-Moir also made an application asking the court to order that Ms Freeman submit to DNA testing to prove that she was the biological daughter of Mr Birtles. In her evidence, Mrs Nield-Moir said that her father told others during his lifetime that Ms Freeman was not his biological daughter, despite the fact that she was born during his marriage to Veronica Birtles.

Ms Freeman refused to consent to the DNA testing during the proceedings on the basis that Mr Birtles was named as her father on her birth certificate and because he had paid maintenance for her benefit until she was 16 years old. Ms Freeman dismissed the evidence put forward by Mrs Nield-Moir questioning paternity as "nothing but gossip and hearsay".

The law surrounding the testing of parentage is complex. Given the lack of specific statute and case law in this area, the barrister for Mrs Nield Moir asked the court to make the order that Ms Freeman provide DNA samples using its “inherent jurisdiction”.

The court ordered that Ms Freeman had 28 days to provide saliva samples to enable DNA tests to be carried out and that any failure to do so would result in adverse inferences being drawn.

This case is a demonstration of the court recognising the importance of science in modern litigation. In this case, the Judge commented that DNA testing “is likely to produce a robust conclusion one way or the other which is preferable to competing witness evidence”.

Cases involving inheritance disputes can be complex and it is important that specialist advice is obtained at an early stage.

Should you wish to discuss a disputed will or contentious probate dispute please do not hesitate to contact our contentious probate team on 01902 424927. Alternatively, you can e-mail us at contentiousprobate@georgegreen.co.uk providing a brief summary of the issues you wish to discuss with us, along with your contact details. In many cases, we can offer funding on a No Win No Fee basis.