In 2001, Ben Erskine, a man who claimed to be the son of renowned guru Paramahansa Yogananda, planned to ask a Los Angeles judge to order that the guru's body be exhumed for DNA testing to determine Erskine's paternity. Erskine's allegations threatened both Yogananda's reputation and the fortune of his estate, which belonged to his organization the Self Realization Fellowship. In 2002, seven years after the allegations arose, conclusive tests comparing Erskine's DNA and that of Yogananda's surviving male relatives in India resolved the controversy and vindicated the guru, thus putting to rest the looming possibility of exhuming his body for DNA testing. The difficult legal questions that the Los Angeles judge would have faced-in the event that dispositive DNA tests of Yogananda's living male relatives had not been made available before litigation-have been raised in similar, albeit less sensational, cases in courts nationwide. In 2008, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, sitting as the Law Court, considered these questions in the case of In re Kingsbury. In particular, the Law Court upheld the Probate Court's decision that required the legitimate daughter of a decedent to submit to DNA testing or, alternatively, that the decedent's body be exhumed for testing to determine the paternity of the petitioner, who claimed to be the decedent's illegitimate daughter. This Note will explore the interests of the illegitimate child in determining her true paternity- including intestacy inheritance rights, knowledge of both parents' medical histories, and a fuller sense of personal and cultural identity-as well as the interests of those who would be tested or affected by testing of the decedent's body. This Note suggests that in balancing these interests, the interests of the illegitimate child in determining her true paternity outweigh opposing interests, particularly in the context of posthumous paternity cases. This Note concludes by proposing a revision of Maine's probate law that would (1) provide a hierarchy of sources from which to obtain DNA samples for posthumous paternity testing, and (2) give the Probate Court the authority to order such testing upon a sufficient showing that paternity will be established.
Dylan R. Boyd,
Raising the Dead: An Examination of In Re Kingsbury and Maine's Law Regarding Intestate Succession and Posthumous Paternity Testing,
Me. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/mlr/vol61/iss2/9