Recent Court Ruling Gives Adopted Children Rights to Inherit Property

Article excerpt

Before 1957, adopted children could not inherit from the estate of their adoptive parents by law because they were considered neither the "issue" of their adoptive parents nor were they considered lineal descendants of the adoptive parent's family.

While that law was changed in 1957 with the enactment of the Uniform Adoption Act, problems still occur when an adopted child tries to inherit.

The child will often run into stumbling blocks thrown up by jealous relatives, several attorneys said, resulting in torn feelings and very often with the matter being brought to the courts.

But a recent decision by the Supreme Court of Oklahoma should clear up remaining problems involving adopted children and their right to inherit as being the "issue" of their adoptive parents.

In Sheryl Hines v. First National Bank of Oklahoma City et. al., Oklahoma's highest court ruled that unless specifically excluded from sharing in the estate by a will, adopted children are considered the "issue" of their adoptive parents and entitled to share in the estate as lineal descendants.

"The legislature tried with the act to eliminate all the distinctions (betwen adoptive and natural children) for legal purposes," said Norman attorney Everett Sweeney, who along with his partner, E. Joe Lankford, represented Hines before the court.

"But apparently the courts have had some difficulty. . .and opinions have gone both ways. I think this decision pretty well sets the record straight."

"From now on," Sweeney said, "adopted children are included (in the estate). My thinking is that to treat an adopted child any different is unthinkable, yet historically it's been done."

The case of Hines v. First National naturally has generated hard feelings on both sides, as any case would if it involved the death of a loved one.

As such, Sweeney declined to comment on the background of the case, saying only "it was unusual that the First National Bank took a position.

"They took the outright position that the adopted child did not take" from the will, Sweeney said.

First National was the executor of the estate involved in the case. The bank's attorney, John F. Eberle, refused comment on the case.

The estate Hines was to have shared in, by virture of her adoption as an infant by Edith M. Gilblet, was well in excess of $1 million, Sweeney said.

All that remains for Hines to do is go back to Oklahoma County District Court, where the case was originally heard by Judge Lory Rakestraw, and collect the money held in escrow.

The attorneys for First National have a chance for a rehearing before the Oklahoma State Supreme Court if they file a petition for such a hearing within 30 days.

Pending the outcome of that, the case could move to the United States Supreme Court, where Sweeney said he's ready to go if necessary. …