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Probate dispute spotlights the rights of adopted children

New Jersey readers may have heard of a recent court case in a neighboring state that got national attention. A probate dispute between a widow and the current family of her former adoptive daughter ended in the daughter's favor. The teenage girl, who was originally adopted from China, is now entitled to a portion of her former adoptive father's $250 million estate after he left behind a trust to care for her.

The girl's first adoptive family finalized the adoption process in 1996, about a year before the father died of cancer. Court documents show that the parents signed the adoption papers, agreeing to treat her as a biological child and giving her the right to inherit part of their estate. Additionally, they were prohibited from transferring the girl or having her re-adopted. The girl's father established a trust for her that was worth almost $850,000.

In 2003, the girl was taken to a boarding school for children with special needs, and the mother's attorneys talked with school officials about the possibility of placing the girl up for re-adoption. The following year, the mother voluntarily gave up the girl, who was re-adopted in 2006. The girl's new parents eventually found out about the trust that had been established by her former adoptive father. They sued on her behalf once they learned the total worth of the estate, requesting a new accounting. The girl's former mother argued that she no longer had the right to an inheritance since she had been re-adopted.

The court ruled in the girl's favor, stating that her former father's will expressed his wishes to provide for her. Additionally, he could not have known that she would be re-adopted a number of years after he died. This is an unusual case, and it is likely that an average probate dispute does not involve these kinds of assets or circumstances. However, any New Jersey resident who is involved in litigation over an estate may wish to seek help in protecting his or her interests.

Source: ABC News, "Widow Owes Rejected Adopted Daughter Millions, Court Rules," Abby Ellin, Feb. 15, 2013

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