Wingate v. Estate of Ryan
149 N.J. 227, 693 A.2d 457 (1997)

  • Wingate believed that she was the child of Mr. Wingate. However, her ten days before Ryan’s death, her mother informed her that she was actually the daughter of Ryan (despite the fact that the mother was married to Mr. Wingate at the time.)
    • According to the Mother, Ryan knew that he was the biological father of Wingate, and helped to provide for her upbringing, but would not acknowledge the fact publicly in order to avoid scandal.
    • DNA testing confirmed that Ryan was Wingate’s biological father.
  • Wingate filed a petition to establish that she (and her children) were legally Ryan’s heirs and entitled to a portion of his estate.
    • Ryan’s estate fought the petition claiming that Wingate was barred from asserting a paternity claim due to the Statute of Limitations in the Parentage Act.
  • The Trial Court found for Wingate. The estate appealed.
  • The Appellate Court reversed. Wingate appealed.
    • The Appellate Court found that under New Jersey State law, there is a 23 year Statute of Limitation for asserting paternity.
      • 23 years was 18 + 5 years. It was assumed that paternity is only important if you are minor.
  • The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed and found for Wingate.
    • The New Jersey Supreme Court found that the 23 year Statute of Limitations concerned the part of the law that dealt with a parent’s obligation to support their child (Parentage Act). After the child was in their 20s, no support was required, so parentage issues became mute. However, this section was never intended to apply to probate law (which is covered by the Probate Code), and the child’s standing to inherit from a parent.
      • Under the Uniform Probate Code, you have three years after the death of the decedent to file a claim. States differ, but all allow a reasonable time after learning about paternity to file a claim.