According to this CNN article, a scientific breakthrough has occurred thanks to research from the Arizona State University and Texas A&M University. These scientists have, for the very first time, identified the structure of telomerase in plants.
Telomerase is an enzyme that creates the DNA of telomeres.
>>Telomeres protects our cells from aging as our cells multiply.
>>>If our cells are protected from aging, then so will our bodies…
This breakthrough will allow scientists to study how telomerase in plants compare to the ones in animals, including humans! For example, there is a pine tree, named Methuselah, that is 4,845 years old in California. It is so inimitable that the location of this particular pine tree is kept secret for protection.
On the flip side, certain cells that have too much telomerase can be deleterious to our health, like cancer cells. The ability to stop a cancer cell from multiplying by shortening its telomeres could be revolutionary!
Fun fact: these components of life are so important that the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Carol W. Greider, and Jack W. Szostak for their research on how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and telomerase.
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I recently blogged about the growing use of home DNA tests and what impact an unexpected result could have upon your rights as a beneficiary of an estate. While such a blog was from the perspective of an individual who discovered through a home DNA test that their biological father was not in fact the individual they previously believed it to be, and the potential impact such a finding could have upon their status as a beneficiary of their “father’s” estate if their interest was based on their status as a “child”, questions would also emerge in such a scenario if you were the Estate Trustee of such an estate regarding what you should do.
If you are the Estate Trustee of an estate in which a bequest is based on parentage (i.e. an intestacy or a bequest to a testator’s “issue” or “children”), and you discover that one of the beneficiaries has voluntarily taken a home DNA test which revealed that they were not in fact related to the deceased, could you still make a distribution to such a beneficiary? If you have already made a distribution to such a beneficiary, is there a risk that the other beneficiaries could now make a claim against you as Estate Trustee, alleging that you distributed the estate to the incorrect individuals and that they have suffered damages as a result?
In response to whether an Estate Trustee could potentially be liable to the other beneficiaries for historically paying out amounts to a beneficiary who it is later discovered was not actually related to the deceased, it would appear that the Estate Trustee likely would not be liable under such a scenario. In my previous blog I discussed the provisions of the Children’s Law Reform Act (the “CLRA“) which establish a person’s legal parentage in Ontario, and the various presumptions establishing an individual’s father. While sections 13(1) and 14(1) of the CLRA allow the court to make a subsequent different declaration as to a person’s parentage, section 14(2) of the CLRA provides that such an Order “does not affect rights and duties that were exercised or performed, or interests in property that were distributed, before the order was set aside“. As a result, it would appear, arguably, that if an Estate Trustee historically made a payment to an individual based off of parentage, and a subsequent declaration is made by the court that the individual in question was not actually the parent of the beneficiary, the historic payment to the beneficiary could not be put in issue or reclaimed provided that at the time the payment was made the beneficiary was still presumed and/or declared to be the child of the deceased.
The issue of what an Estate Trustee is to do if a payment has not yet been made and they discover that an individual who they previously believed to be a beneficiary is not in fact related to the deceased could be more complicated. In the event that the other beneficiaries who could be affected by the distribution do not unanimously consent to continue to allow the distribution to the individual notwithstanding the results of the DNA test, it is possible that one or all of the other beneficiaries may later bring a claim against the Estate Trustee for negligence, alleging that the Estate Trustee knew about the results of the DNA test before making the distribution and that they have suffered damages as a result of the distribution. To offset such a risk, it may be wise for the Estate Trustee in such a scenario to bring an Application for the opinion, advice and direction of the court pursuant to section 60(1) of the Trustee Act and/or rule 14.05, asking the court to determine whether the distribution may still be made to the potential beneficiary in light of the results of the home DNA test.
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The title of a seminar last week on genealogical research by a group in Toronto caught my interest and I was happy that I attended. Ron Wencer has been a speaker at many meetings of genealogical societies over the years and his talk this time was entitled: “My completely new Grandfather: the DNA Gods Giveth, and they Taketh Away”. His talk reminded me of how advancing technology changes society and how society and laws adapt in response. You only have to do an internet search to find numerous recent examples of DNA testing through outfits like Ancestry DNA or 23andme to see how some lives were changed by DNA test results. Among the stories you will find are those locating previously unknown siblings, children, or other family members that have resulted in everything from happy reunions to divorce.
In the case of Ron Wencer, he had begun researching his own family history over twenty years ago. He knew that his family was originally from Poland and that they had immigrated to New York, living in the Maspeth neighbourhood of Brooklyn. But his grandparents on his maternal side were initially a mystery. He was eventually able to find information on them. Both Michal Silakowski and his wife Marianna had died in the 1930s before their first grandchild was born, and not much family history had been transmitted, but the village that they were from was located.
Ron Wencer recently took a DNA test and allowed the results to be posted on the internet. After then connecting with other DNA test results and analyzing the results of first cousins, second cousins and so forth, and then going back up the family tree he came to a startling conclusion. Although all of the earlier research established that his grandfather was Michal Silakowski, the DNA genetically established that it was not possible that Michal Silakowski was the biological son of his Silakowski parents, the Silakowski great grandparents. One of the explanations is that perhaps in infancy this young boy was cared for by the Silakowski family. Such informal adoptions would have been common back then if there was a death of the mother during childbirth or for other reasons.
This however, raises an interesting question on tracing missing heirs in estates. This tracing can be required where there was no will, or where there was a will that resulted in an intestacy due to the predeceasing of a beneficiary or otherwise. It has usually been accepted that a Certificate of Birth from a Vital Statistics Agency showing the family connection is proof of the right to inherit. But, are we perhaps moving into new territory in the future, where DNA testing may be involved and may then “Giveth or Taketh Away” an inheritance?
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