Monday, February 25, 2002
Court Rejects Expansion of Equitable Adoption Doctrine
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A state appeals court on Friday rejected a former foster child’s bid to expand the legal definition of “equitable adoption,” turning aside his claim to a share of his foster parent’s estate since there was no adoption contract or legal impediment to adoption.
Terrold Bean presented evidence that he was raised by Arthur Patrick Ford and Ford’s wife, that they called him “son,” changed his religion, included him on family vacations and otherwise had a parent-child relationship with him.
But formal adoption proceedings never were commenced, even though Bean was the only one of numerous foster children that the Fords took in and included on adoption availability registries.
Bean sought to inherit under both Probate Code Sec. 6454, a statute that specifically provides for “foster child heirship” if the child can show by clear and convincing evidence that he would have been adopted but for “a legal barrier,” and under Sec. 6455, which sets forth the doctrine of equitable adoption.
Under that doctrine, a child who can show he or she has been constructively treated as a child can inherit as a child.
In the San Francisco Superior Court, the judge rejected Bean’s first contention, saying there was no clear and convincing evidence, in fact no evidence at all, of an attempt to adopt but for a legal barrier.
The second contention also was rejected, and Bean in his appeal said the judge had confused the two sections by requiring a clear and convincing standard for equitable adoption.
In an opinion for Div. Two of the First District Court of Appeal, Justice Paul Haerle wrote that the judge ruled correctly.
“Section 6455 covers a broader class of claimants than just the former or current foster children to covered by section 6454,” Haerle said. “It applies to any claimant. We agree with the trial court that common sense suggests that no lesser standard of proof should apply to the broader type of claim permitted by section 6455 than explicitly applies to the more narrow claim permitted by the immediately preceding section.”
In Bean’s case, he said, there was evidence of affection and close ties between the ex-foster child and his foster family, but no clear and convincing evidence statement that they intended to adopt him or that they would have done so were they legally able.
Haerle also rejected bean’s argument that there Ford had expressed an intent to adopt Bean, explaining that the doctrine of equitable adoption is based on strict contract theory and not quasi-contracts.
“The concept of quasi-contract, or implied by law contract, is miles away from the facts of this case,” the justice said. “In the case before us, no one obtained a benefit or is being unjustly enriched at the expense of Bean. To the extent respondents are ‘enriched’ by becoming heirs of Ford’s estate, it is because of the California law of intestate succession, not because of nay mistreatment of Bean by them.”
The case is Bean v. Ford, A094755.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company