The Hague City Hall

Using DNA to prove a hereditary right

A father has passed away and his estate has been divided when someone comes forward who claims to be the son or daughter of the deceased. Apparently, the deceased fathered this child without anyone (possibly not even the deceased himself) knowing about his or her existence.

In the case where a child has not been specifically recognised (and was not born during the marriage of the biological parents), the relationship between the child and the biological father is not recognised under family law between the child and the biological father. As a result, the child does not inherit by operation of law following the father’s death, nor is he or she entitled to the forced share in the estate.

The procedure
Prior to the child claiming a share of the inheritance, he or she will have to commence proceedings to have paternity established in court. This is not entirely straightforward. Before the court orders a DNA test to ascertain whether the father really is the child’s biological father, the child will have to submit proof.

He or she will have to demonstrate that there was contact between the mother and father which could have resulted in the child being conceived. Witness statements from the mother, neighbours or friends are considered as means to demonstrate such contact.

Since the law changed in 1998, the courts have nearly always granted claims by illegitimate children. The circumstances in which the child was conceived are no longer of relevance to the court. In the eyes of the law, all that matters is that the man fathered the child.

DNA test
When the father has passed away, his DNA cannot be obtained directly and the child will have to supply DNA by other means in order to enable a DNA test to be carried out. In case the father has been buried, the remains can be exhumed and DNA can be taken. In case the father’s body has been cremated, the child will have to supply DNA by other means. Some examples of objects from which DNA can be extracted are a used toothbrush, an old licked envelope or a postage stamp, but even a hairbrush or an item of clothing can be a reliable source of DNA material. If the father received hospital treatment, genetic material may still be available which can be used to establish paternity.

In case the father is still alive, extracting DNA is very straightforward, although the father is under no obligation to consent to DNA sampling.

Law of succession
Incidentally, whether the father ever had contact with his illegitimate child is irrelevant in the eyes of the law, nor does it have any bearing whether the child ever independently sought contact with his or her biological father, or only came forward after the father’s death.

Terms of prescription or forfeiture do not apply to illegitimate children, thus it may be that a person comes forward to claim his or her share of the estate 20 years after the father’s death. If the deceased is found to have fathered the child, he or she is entitled to inherit. Paternity can be established with retroactive effect, even many years later. In such cases, the heirs who received the estate will – in principle – have to share it as yet with this “new” child.

If the estate did not go to the surviving partner, but to the heirs, the heirs will have to surrender part of their original inheritance – but only if the inheritance has not yet been spent. If there is no surviving partner, the children (including the biological child) are entitled to the assets that make up the estate, and these must then be (re)distributed.

The figures
Although it is not known exactly how many illegitimate children there are in the Netherlands, figures from Statistics Netherlands show that, in 2011, 81,620 illegitimate children were born, 73,370 of whom were recognised by their father the same year they were born. This means there were more than 8200 children in 2011 with no named father on their birth certificate, which situation can cause no end of problems when the father dies.


Should you have any questions about this topic or other family law matters, please do not hesitate to contact us.

This article has been written in close consultation with Bianca Beekhuizen, Legal Assistant in the Family and Inheritance Law practice group.