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Sons Inherit From Father Even After Adoption By Step-Father

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A recent California appellate case, as Judge Morrison of California’s third Appellate District writes at the start, “illustrates the danger of using preprinted wills. This danger, ill-described in the text of the opinion, may be better stated as “Be careful of what you fail to wish for.”

Decedent Haskell J. Dye passed away five months after his second wife, Eleanor, died in 1999. As Haskell failed to change his 1989 will after his wife’s death in January 1999, his estate lapsed and thus passed to his “issue” pursuant to California intestacy law.

Haskell Dye left an adopted son, Scott, whose mother was Eleanor, one biological son, Phillip Joe Battles, as well as children of another biological son, Jimmie Dean Battles, who predeceased his father. The Haskell estate was divided into thirds— one third to Scott Dye, one third to Phillip Joe Battle, and one third to Jimmie Dean Battle’s children (Jimmie Dean Battle had died before Mr. Dye). Here it must be noted that Haskell Dye’s biological sons did not share his name because when their mother, Haskell’s first wife, remarried, Haskell consented to his sons’ adoption by their stepfather.

Scott Dye, Haskell’s adopted son, appealed the order granting a share of the estate to Haskell’s biological descendants based on the assertion that Haskell did not intend for his adopted-out sons to have any of his estate. He also pointed out that there would have been no doubt that the biological sons were disinherited up until 1985.

The California legislature passed a statute in that year which permits adopted-out children to retain some privileges of the blood relationship so long as both of two conditions apply:

The natural parent and the adopted person lived together at any time as parent and child, and

The adoption was by the spouse of either of the natural parents.

So if Haskell Dye’s biological issue were to inherit at all, it would be because of the 1985 change to California’s intestacy law.

The California court took great pains to explain that the adopted son’s, Scott Dye’s, arguments about his father’s intentions fly in the face of accepted wisdom and voluminous case law regarding such. Judge Morrison reasoned that had Haskell Dye truly intended that his biological issue receive nothing, he could have clearly disinherited them or left them a nominal sum. Estate of Dye,October 9, 2001

Had Haskell Dye lived and died in Arizona his two biological sons would probably share in his estate. Although there is a conflict between two Arizona statutes a 1996 case based on similar facts (Estate of Ryan, Ariz. Court of Appeals) gives priority to the statute that protects a child’s right to inherit even after adoption by a step-parent.

The result in Mr. Dye’s case was different from that in another, similar case reported last April inElder Law Issues. In that case (“Adoption Cuts Off Automatic Inheritance From Grandmother“) three children adopted by thier grandparents after the death of their parents did not inherit from the other side of their family; an apparently inconsistent result is reached in this case because the rules are different for adoptions by step-parents.

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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.