Can Adopted Children Inherit the Estate of Their Biological Parents?

Our Oakland Attorney Discusses One of His Notable Probate Cases

Probate lawyer Charles Triay recalls in this video an interesting contested trust case in which he represented the biological son of a man who may have suffered undue influence when drafting a trust upon his death. If you need assistance amending a defective trust or will after a loved one’s passing or require effective representation in probate court, reach out to our attorneys who have over three decades of legal experience.

Video Transcription

One of the interesting cases with some very unique factors that I handled just a couple of years ago involved a gentleman who was a patent attorney for Chevron, and he lived over on the peninsula. He had been married once, when he was very young, to a woman from England. While she was pregnant, they had a falling out and she went back to England. She eventually gave birth to the child, a son. He was eventually adopted by a subsequent husband. The gentleman who died never remarried, never had any children. He never had a will, which, believe it or not, that’s not uncommon, even for attorneys.

He amassed quite a bit of property buying real estate on the peninsula in the 50s and 60s. When he was on his deathbed, his accountant and his property manager kept saying, “You’ve got to write a will. You’ve got to write a trust.”

They arranged to have an attorney come to meet with them. The attorney met with them, and said, “Who do you want to leave it to? Do you want to leave it to your son?” “No.” “Do you want to leave it to your nieces and nephews?” “No.” “Well, who do you want to leave it to?” “I don’t know. I don’t care.” The attorney went on and on with him, and finally said, “I know that you live on a street and there’s a park, a public park at the end of the street. Do you want to leave it to the parks?”

The answer was something like, “Yeah, whatever.” The drafting attorney said, “Well, that’s the most positive thing that I’ve heard so far.” The drafting attorney went and wrote up the trust to leave it to the city park system. Well, it turns out that the attorney was on the parks commission for one of the adjoining cities. He had an indirect interest in writing the will and the trust in that way.

He came back a few days later with the documents prepared. According to his own testimony, the gentleman was lying in his bed in the fetal position but could communicate with grunts. He read him the document. The gentleman grunted, and with assistance, grasped the pen and signed the document.

We ended up with a three-way battle over who was to get the estate. On one side was the city representing their park’s district. On the other side was the nieces and nephews, who lived here in Canada, and in Las Vegas and in other places in the western U.S. My client was his biological son. Unknown to a lot of people, adopted children can inherit from their biological parent under certain circumstances. One of those circumstances is that they lived with the biological parent at some point in time. The law doesn’t specify how long or at what age.

This child, when he was 18, had come and stayed with his biological father for two weeks. When the child was young, like one year old, and the parents were going through a divorce battle back in England, the father had stayed in the rooming house run by the mother. All three of them were under the same roof at that time.

The case was difficult, and so we ended up settling it with all three sides getting a substantial amount of money. I thought that was an interesting case.