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Wingate v. Estate of Ryan

Citation. Wingate v. Estate of Ryan, 149 N.J. 227, 693 A.2d 457, 1997)
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Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiff argues that the Probate Code’ statute of limitations applies to her claim and allows her to file a claim within a reasonable time and after reasonable notice and publication. Defendants contend that the twenty-three year statute of limitations from the Parentage Act apply and bar Plaintiff’s claim.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The twenty-three year statute of limitations period of the Parentage Act did not apply to an intestacy claim by a thirty-one year old claimant under the Probate Code.


Plaintiff Joanne Wingate was born in December 1963 and her mother, Rachel Parsio, was married to Willard Wingate at the time of her birth. Parsio and Wingate divorced in 1970 and Wingate passed away in 1988. In February 1995 decedent, John Ryan, died intestate. Ten days before his death Plaintiff was informed by her mother that Ryan was her natural father. Ryan had a close relationship with Plaintiff and purchased gifts and paid for substantial expenses of the Plaintiffs. During his lifetime Ryan threatened to cut of ties and support if it was made public that he was Plaintiff’s father. Plaintiff filed a complaint to establish that she and her son were the heirs of Ryan. A DNA test was conducted and proved that Ryan was Plaintiff’s natural father. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment alleging that Plaintiff failed to comply with the twenty-three year limitations period under the New Jersey Parentage Act. The trial court originally granted summary judgment bu
t later on a motion for reconsideration vacated its decision and transferred the matter. The appellate court granted summary judgment and Plaintiff now appeals.


Whether the twenty-three year limitations period found in the New Jersey Parentage Act applies to an intestacy action filed by a thirty one year old claimant to prove parentage and heirship under the Probate Code?


No. Reversed. The 1991 amendment to the Probate Code intended only to amend the standard of proof (from clear and convincing to preponderance of the evidence) and did not adopt the twenty-three year limitations period found in the Parentage Act. Plaintiff’s claim is therefore not barred.


In determining whether the Legislature intended to change the Probate Code’s statute of limitations the Court looks to the legislative history. The Court finds that the only item discussed by the Law Revision Commission was the inconsistent burdens of proof and not the statute of limitations. In addition the Court finds that the Parentage Act and the Probate Code are independent statutes that address different primary rights.

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