An older woman adopted her younger girlfriend/partner in the 1970’s so the girlfriend could inherit the trust fund created by the older woman’s father. When the older woman died in 1997, the girlfriend inherited a substantial sum from the trust. The younger woman died in 2009 without a will. Her brother staked a claim to her $25 million estate as her closest living relative. However, NY law (and Ohio law) provides that once someone is adopted, they lose all relationships with their prior family, including the ability to inherit from them, and the ability to leave them assets without a will. The woman’s estate will escheat to the State of NY because she has no relatives.
1. Lawyers in this case are arguing that the older woman adopted her girlfriend because same sex couples did not have the same rights as traditional couples in the 1970s. However, that argument is a red herring because the funds were in a trust which could only be left to a descendant which caused the woman to adopt her girlfriend. Funds not in trust could be left to anyone she pleased – girlfriend, charity, or relatives.
2. I draft trusts to prevent this type of adoption chicanery by including only children who were adopted prior to the age of 18.
3. In an era of Obergefell and Kaitlyn Jenner’s reality show, it is easy to create a legal smokescreen by arguing discrimination from 40 years ago, when the real culprit is simple neglect by a wealthy person to create a will.