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Designate a beneficiary

“Test the oldest generation first” is the standard advice everyone — The Legal Genealogist included — gives when it comes to DNA testing.

It only makes sense, particularly in the context of autosomal DNA testing, when every generation is impacted by what’s called recombination: the random jumbling of genes that occurs before half (and only half) of those randomly-jumbled pieces gets passed on by each parent to the next generation.1

But the very fact that we are testing the oldest members of our families creates a problem — one greatly exacerbated recently by the decision of AncestryDNA to require every person tested to have his or her own AncestryDNA account.2

That problem: how do we plan for the future, and for access to those results, when the inevitable happens and we lose those oldest members of our families?

In other words, how do we do estate planning for our DNA results, the way we do when we sit down and write wills for our other property and effects?

There’s no question but that the vast majority of those who test want their results to be available and accessible forever to their family members and especially to the family genealogists who’ve often cajoled them into testing and even paid for the tests. So how do we make sure this is done?

This isn’t a new problem, and I’ve written about it before.3 But it’s still a problem that only one DNA company has addressed — and that all companies and all DNA testers need to address. And, because there are no guarantees in life, it’s something we as testers have to address right now.

Only Family Tree DNA has tackled the question of making sure that each person who tests can say what should happen with access to his or her account into the future, by allowing each person who tests to choose and specifically identify a beneficiary for our DNA samples and results. The solution there is a fill-in-the-blanks system, backed up by a printed form to be signed and notarized and put with our other legal effects.

While I’d prefer an all-digital system, it’s at least a system in place, and I can’t recommend strongly enough that (a) every DNA testing company (are you listening, AncestryDNA? 23andMe? MyHeritageDNA? LivingDNA?) create a simple online system to allow testers to indicate their estate plan for DNA samples and results and (b) every person tested use whatever system exists to say what they want done to guarantee future access according to that plan.

Since I’ve tested with Family Tree DNA, by simply filling in a few bits of information, and getting one piece of paper properly notarized, I can set things up so that someone I choose can be:

the sole beneficiary to (my test kit), my Stored DNA, DNA Results, and Family Tree DNA account, to do all things required. For that purpose my beneficiary may execute and deliver, or amend, correct, replace all documents, forms, consents or release, tests and upgrades, and may do all lawful acts which may continue my involvement with

If you’re also a Family Tree DNA customer, here’s how to do it. First, log in to your Family Tree DNA test results and, on the dashboard page, look for this link to Manage Personal Information:

Click on that link, and you’ll go to this page with these tabs, and note the one highlighted at the right:

Click on the tab for Beneficiary Information and this is what you’ll see:

And when you fill out those boxes and click save, it will offer you the chance — highlighted here — to go to a printable form, already filled out with the information you entered in the boxes.

That form needs to be notarized. I keep a copy with my will. I’ve sent a copy to the person I’ve chosen to be executor of my estate.

And, because none of the other companies offers the same easy system, here’s one thing more you can do, something I have done:

I’ve taken the Family Tree DNA form, and changed the language, replacing all the references to Family Tree DNA with each of the other company names, and all the references to my kit number and the like with appropriate information about my test results from the other companies. And I’ve given my beneficiary the legal authority to continue to access my results and accounts at those other companies if something happens to me. I keep those with my will as well.

Now I can’t guarantee the other companies will honor that authority, because they haven’t been as forward-thinking as Family Tree DNA is about this issue. But it’s one thing I can do — along with specifically mentioning my DNA results in my will — until and unless the other companies do set something up on their own.

Because if something does happen to me, it may well be more important to my extended family to have my genetic legacy than any other legacy I might possibly leave them.

I’m doing everything I can, with Family Tree DNA’s help, to ensure that that legacy does get passed on, by doing estate planning for my DNA.

How about you? What’s your estate plan for your DNA?


  1. ISOGG Wiki (, “Recombination,” rev. 21 Feb 2017.
  2. See Anna Swayne, “Enhancing Collaboration and Roles on DNA Results,” Ancestry blog, posted 13 July 2017 ( : accessed 20 Aug 2017).
  3. Judy G. Russell, “DNA ownership,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 14 Sep 2014 ( : accessed 20 Aug 2017).
  4. Family Tree DNA beneficiary designation printed form, Family Tree DNA ( : accessed 20 Aug 2017).
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