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“Equitable” Adoption Denied In Absence of Evidence of Intent

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Terrold Bean was only one year old when he went to live with Arthur Ford and his wife in California. The Fords took in foster children for San Francisco, and Mr. Bean was one of the ten children they accepted over the years. As it turned out, he was the child they kept for the longest time.

Although Mr. Bean lived with the Fords (and their birth daughter Mary Catherine) for the rest of his childhood, and continued to call them “mom” and “dad,” the Fords never actually got around to adopting him. There was some indication that there were problems with his birth mother’s involvement, or concerns about whether filing an adoption proceeding might not lead to him being removed from their home. Whatever the reason, even after his mother’s parental rights were terminated (Mr. Bean was then four) no adoption was undertaken.

In 1973, when Mr. Bean was 18, his foster mother died. He continued to live with Mr. Ford and Mary Catherine until he was married, and maintained close contact for the next twenty five years.

When Mary Catherine, his “sister,” died in 1999, Mr. Bean took over responsibility for care of Mr. Ford. He supervised Mr. Ford’s stay in a nursing home and arranged for a conservator to be appointed to manage his affairs. But when Mr. Ford died in May, 2000, he left no surviving children and no will naming Mr. Bean.

Under California law (as would be the case in Arizona) Mr. Ford’s entire estate would pass to his closest relatives—a niece and nephew who had not seen him for fifteen years and didn’t even know that either he or Mary Catherine had died until a lawyer contacted them.

Mr. Bean filed a claim in the probate court, arguing that he was really Mr. Ford’s son even though no adoption had been formalized. He relied on the common law doctrine of “equitable” adoption, which recognizes that sometimes the failure to complete the legal proceedings should not prevent inheritance by someone who has in fact been raised as if they had actually been adopted. After hearing the evidence, however, the probate court ruled against Mr. Bean and he appealed.

The California Court of Appeals agreed that Mr. Bean had not established the requirements for an equitable adoption. The appellate court noted that there was no evidence that Mr. and Mrs. Ford ever intended to adopt Mr. Bean. The judges also ruled that Mr. Bean had the burden of showing that intention (and the other elements of equitable adoption) by clear and convincing evidence. In the absence of any adoption (and with no will) Mr. Ford’s estate passed to his nephew and niece. Estate of Ford, February 21, 2002.

Arizona also recognizes the possibility of equitable adoption. In Arizona the parent must have promised to adopt the child, while California decisions only speak of an “intent” to adopt. Still, Arizona courts have on three occasions (most recently in 1972) approved inheritances utilizing the equitable adoption concept.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.