In re Estate of Terry L. Seybert, 2022 WL 188334, Docket No 355647 (Mich Ct App Jan 20 2022) (for publication), the Michigan Court of Appeals considered the Probate Court’s power to order a child of a decedent to submit to genetic testing, where a party is seeking to prove the existence of a parent-child relationship with the decedent for purposes of intestate succession.
In 2019, Terry Seybert (“Decedent”) died and his body was cremated. Decedent’s daughter, Shannon Parker, served as personal representative of Decedent’s probate estate. Aaron Wise petitioned the Probate Court to enjoin the personal representative from distributing any assets of the estate until the Probate Court could determine whether Decedent was Aaron’s father. Aaron offered the results of genetic testing from Decedent’s mother and brother, which was inconclusive as to whether Aaron was Decedent’s child. Aaron moved the Probate Court to order Shannon to submit to genetic testing, over Shannon’s objection, given that there was no remaining genetic material of Decedent. The Probate Court granted that motion, and Shannon appealed.
The Michigan Court of Appeals started its analysis with MCL 700.2114(1), which identifies several means by which the existence of a parent-child relationship may be proven for purposes of intestacy. One of those methods is determining paternity “using the standards and procedures established under the [P]aternity [A]ct[.]” The Paternity Act, at MCL 722.717(1), permits paternity to be shown via “[g]enetic testing under [MCL 722.716].” MCL 722.716 provides that a court “shall order that the mother, child, and alleged father” submit to genetic testing for purposes of determining paternity. The Court of Appeals therefore concluded that the Probate Court lacked authority to order Decedent’s daughter to undergo genetic testing, because MCL 722.716 did not mention genetic testing of Decedent’s other children.
Aaron argued that he had the right to compel Shannon to undergo genetic testing under Michigan Court Rule 2.311 (“Physical and Mental Examination of Persons”). The Michigan Court of Appeals disagreed for two reasons. First, the court rule was inapplicable because it was superseded by the more specific statute, MCL 722.716. Second, even if the court rule were applicable, MCR 2.311(A) only permits physical examination of a person “[w]hen the mental or physical condition ... of a party ... is in controversy ...” There was no controversy regarding Shannon’s mental or physical condition, and so she was not subject to MCR 2.311(A).
What is the significance of this ruling? First, it is a published decision which is binding precedent on all Probate Courts. Second, it represents a limitation on a putative child’s ability to establish a parent-child relationship with a deceased putative father, where decedent’s other children don’t want to cooperate with genetic testing. However, if decedent’s other children or relatives voluntarily undergo genetic testing, the results of such testing may be used to establish paternity.
If you have a question about a probate, trust or estate dispute, contact David Skidmore at firstname.lastname@example.org or 616.752.2491.