In Estate of Hannifin, 2013 UT 46 (filed August 2, 2013), the Utah Supreme Court held that the provisions of the Utah Probate Code pre-empt and supersede the doctrine of equitable adoption for purposes of intestate succession.
The Court had previously recognized the validity of equitable adoptions in Utah for purposes of intestate distribution in In re Williams’ Estates, 348 P.2d 683 (Utah 1960).
Under the doctrine of equitable adoption, as articulated in the Williams case, a person who was never formally adopted by the decedent could nonetheless inherit from the decedent under the laws governing intestate succession if the person’s biological parents had agreed to relinquish all rights with respect to the person in return for the decedent’s agreement to adopt the person.
In Hannifin, the Court held that the provisions of the Utah Probate Code that specifically prohibit step-children and foster children from inheriting under the rules of intestate succession pre-empt the doctrine of equitable adoption. The Court also reasoned that the Probate Code and the doctrine of equitable adoption are mutually inconsistent because the Probate Code prohibits inheritance from both the natural parents and the adoptive parents, while such “dual succession” is a central feature of equitable adoption. Finally, the Court explained that the uncertainty and complexity that accompany the vague standard announced in the Williams opinion run contrary to the Probate Code’s objectives of simplicity, clarity and predictability.
For a discussion of the rules governing intestate succession in Utah, see Basic Utah Estate Planning on this website.
Rust Tippett is the author of this blog post.
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This blog post in no way creates an attorney-client relationship between the reader and either Robert S. (Rust) Tippett or Bennett Tueller Johnson & Deere, LLC. The reader should consult with his or her own estate planning attorney regarding his or her particular circumstances.