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.
Viciously cruel mothers exist outside of Disney tales. An NY couple with a net worth of $250 million adopted an infant girl, Emily, from China in 1996. As part of the adoption, they promised to provide for her in their estate planning documents and to create a separate trust for her. Sadly, the adoptive father died soon thereafter, leaving his much younger wife with Emily and their 5 biological children.
The widow, who has gained notoriety by spending $33 million dollars to purchase 10 of the Thimble Islands in Long Island Sound, claimed to have difficulty with Emily’s behavior and enrolled her in a special needs school. This was after allegedly making her sleep in a tent outside for a week for misbehavior and not including her win family dinners with the other children (and after adopting and giving up another son). Eventually, the widow allowed Emily to be adopted by a different family.
Te new adoptive parents eventually learned about the trusts created when Emily was adopted and sought a court order enforcing them. The widow fought the order but an NY court held that the father had intended to include her in his estate.
1. The widow must have taken parenting classes from Cinderella.
2. The Thimble Islands are story book-esque (see the pictures).
3. Emily’s $40+ million future inheritance should buy her a lot of therapy. I suspect she will need it.
I am an attorney located in Cincinnati, Ohio who practices in the areas of estate planning, probate, asset protection, and small business advice. I make a difficult and bewildering process as simple as possible. Most importantly, I provide "more for less" for my clients.