Trusts and Estates

Ca. Trs. & Estates Quarterly Volume 15, Issue 4, Winter 2010


By Mark J. Phillips, J.D., LL.M.*


California has grappled with the inheritance rights of posthumously conceived children since 1991, when William Kane took his life in a penthouse suite of the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas. At that time there was little in the way of statute or case law regulating the inheritance rights of posthumously conceived children, but much has happened since, both in California and other states. While always a step behind, the law has attempted to keep pace with the rapidly changing science of conception.

Posthumous birth is as old as mankind. Although less common today, disease and accidents have regularly carried away fathers during the nine months prior to the birth of their child. There have been posthumous rulers in every major European house, including Spain, Portugal, Greece, even the short-lived crusader kingdom of Jerusalem. England had two: Henry VII and William III. The French, with their penchant for giving nicknames to all of their kings, had one named John the Posthumous (the son of Louis the Quarrelsome). Other famous posthumous individuals include Mohammad, Pope Clement VII, Sir Isaac Newton, Jonathan Swift, Chester Nimitz, John Jacob Astor, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. The United States has had two posthumous presidents, Andrew Jackson and Bill Clinton, and even a posthumous presidential assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.

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