The issue of Paternity After the death of the Alleged Father

DNA Paternity Tests and Options Available When the Parent is Deceased

DNA paternity tests are the most common form of DNA testing, used to determine the biological relations between individuals. The paternity test is used to decide whether or not an individual is the father of a child, and the samples involved are simple buccal swabs, taken from the cheeks inside the mouth. However, if the alleged parent is deceased, then the test becomes more complex: what are the options available to establish paternity in such cases?

Alternative Screening and Sampling Techniques

Although it might appear that paternity can no longer be established, at least with respect to the deceased, that is not necessarily so. It is possible to carry out what is referred to as relationship screening, whereby DNA tests are carried out on immediate relatives of the deceased (parents, grandparents, other children, etc) in order to establish a genetic link between the deceased and the child.

Additionally, there are also alternative methods available for the collection of the DNA sample from the deceased, as discussed in more detail below.

Case 1 – Up to a Week After Death

If the deceased passed away no more than a week ago, then you should try to get permission to take fingernail and hair samples – the latter should include the root. These are just as suitable samples for DNA testing as an oral swab, although more it is more difficult to extract the DNA from them, so make sure the lab is sufficiently competent. These samples can be used to prove paternity just in the same way as if the alleged father was alive.

Case 2 – The Type of Sample

It doesn’t really matter what type of DNA sample is used for the comparison screening in paternity disputes, and you have to seek alternatives to the regular direct samples in the event of a deceased father having been cremated or buried. In such a case, indirect samples will have to do, such as the DNA extracted from a cigarette butt, a used handkerchief or tissue, or even a toothbrush. However, the problem is one of scale, and many such samples yield too little DNA to be of use to the analyst.

Case 3 – Exhuming the Body

If the alleged father is deceased and has been buried, the body may be exhumed if there is a good legal reason for doing so. Normally, a tissue sample will be easy to retrieve from an exhumed body, but if the death occurred long enough ago for there to be only a skeleton left, then sampling is not so simple. You need a big enough sample of bone to provide sufficient DNA for comparison with that of the child, and from the right place.

The humerus and femur neck are the best areas of bone from which to take a sample, and should be at least 2 grams to offer sufficient DNA for the intended purpose. Such a DNA Forensic Testing procedure can be very expensive. In addition there are the exhumation and reburial costs – so do not enter into this lightly, and make sure that you take advantage of the experience and advice of a forensic pathologist.