Life After Death
DNA Matching Solves Mysteries and Unlocks Benefits
There are many situations in which the DNA of a deceased person can be helpful, if not imperative to unlocking mysteries, and more practically, unlocking financial benefits. Many situations where one person may be entitled to financial benefits after the death of another person hang on determination of the biological relationship between the two individuals. Properly collected and documented DNA evidence is the most decisive, reliable method available to cut through questionable claims and reward proper ones.
State laws determine how the estates of people who die “intestate,” that is, without a legal will, will be divided. In most states, if a person dies intestate without a legal spouse, the laws of succession dictate that their biological children inherit first; if no children, then siblings inherit next; if no living siblings, then nieces and nephews; then more distant cousins; etc.
The science of DNA testing and analysis have advanced greatly in recent years. It is now possible, within a certain degree of uncertainty, to determine the probability not only that a person is a direct, biological child of a deceased person, but also a sibling, and with lesser certainty, more extended familial relationships such as nieces, nephews and cousins.
Did you know?
- Collecting a DNA sample is a simple process: 1) Swab a separate, clean Q-tip inside each cheek; 2) Allow each Q-tip to air dry; and 3) Seal them in separate, labeled, paper bags.
- Few states have addressed the collection of DNA samples from deceased persons, neither expressly prohibiting or authorizing it. This leaves the matter largely up to the estate representatives.
- Attorneys who represent funeral homes are beginning to advise them to counsel family members that at the time of a loved one’s death is the last best chance to secure such direct samples.
- If direct DNA samples of a deceased person are not collected, “touch DNA” may be collected from their personal belongings, but at much greater expense and with reduced certainty of reliability and usable results.
- If direct DNA samples of a deceased person are not collected, familial relationships of unknown persons may still be determined by comparison with DNA samples from known biological relations, but again at greater inconvenience, expense, and lower certainty and reliability of usable results
Health Questions Answered with DNA Testing
DNA testing of a deceased blood relative can be instrumental in helping solve mysteries related to hereditary health conditions. The simplest and easiest way to make these connections is to make sure to arrange for collection of a sample of DNA from the deceased as part of the process of final interment.
These days attorneys have begun to discuss leaving DNA samples or instructions for collecting them with their will and estate clients. A will or legal directive can instruct funeral home personal to collect a sample as part of the process of preparation for final disposition of their remains. This is, practically speaking, the last best chance to get a high quality, reliable sample.
Funeral home directors increasingly make a point to discuss the benefits of DNA sample collection with family members at the time of final arrangements for a loved one or with those forward-thinking individuals who make their own end-of-life arrangements with the funeral home in advance. It is a simple service with potentially far-reaching beneficial impact on families for generations to come.
But even if that isn’t done, the increasing sensitivity of DNA testing allows more reliable results with smaller and smaller samples. A new subset of the DNA science called “touch DNA” can discern the identity of distinct individuals with fewer than ten skin cells from each person, collected from items they handled casually. These samples are invisible to the naked eye, but more than sufficient for reliable testing and analysis. DNA Touch evidence is what finally exonerated the parents of Jon Benet Ramsey from accusations of her murder in the famous, decades-long murder investigation.
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