Hall v. Vallandingham

The Facts

  • Current MD adoption statute provides in relevant part:
    • After a decree of adoption is entered:
      • The individual adopted:
        • Is the child of the petitioner for all intents and purposes; and
        • Is entitled to all the rights and privileges of and is subject to all the obligations of a child born to the petitioner in wedlock.
      • Each living natural parent of the individual adopted is:
        • Relieved of all parental duties and obligations to the individual adopted; and
        • Divested of all parental rights as to the individual adopted; and
      • All rights of inheritance between the individual adopted and the natural relations shall be governed by the Estates and Trusts Article
  • The Estates and Trusts Code of MD says: “An adopted child shall be treated as a natural child of his adopted parent or parents. On adoption, a child no longer shall be considered a child of either natural parent, except that upon adoption by the spouse of a natural parent, the child shall be considered the child of that natural parent.”
  • Earl died in 1956 survived by his widow, Elizabeth, and their four children.
  • In 1958, Elizabeth married Jim Kilgore, who adopted the four children.
  • Earl’s brother, William Jr., died in 1983, childless, unmarried, and intestate.
  • Sole heirs were his surviving brothers and sisters and the children of brothers and sisters who predeceased him.
  • Joseph, William Jr.’s twin brother, was appointed the administrator of the estate.
  • Four natural children of Earl and Elizabeth claimed they were entitled to their distributive share of William’s estate that their father would have inherited.

Procedural History

  • Orphan’s Court transferred to the TC
  • TC determined the four children were the children of their adopted father, Jim, and thus were not entitled to inheritance under William’s estate.

The Issue

  • Whether the TC erred in construing Maryland’s current law regarding natural inheritance by adopted persons so as to deny the Appellants the right to inherit through their natural paternal uncle, when said Appellants were adopted as minors by their stepfather after the death of their natural father and the remarriage of their natural mother

The Rule

  • Family Law Art. Section:5-308 plainly mandates that adoption be considered ‘”rebirth” into a completely different relationship, and once a child is adopted, the rights of both the natural parents and relatives are terminated.

The Holding/Disposition

  • No, TC affirmed

Court’s Reasoning

  • The right to receive property by devise or descent is not a natural right but a privilege granted by the State
  • Every state possess the power to regulate the manner or term by which property within its dominion may be transmitted by will or inheritance and to proscribe who shall or shall not be capable of receiving that property.
  • A State may deny the privilege altogether or may impose whatever restrictions or conditions upon the grant it deems appropriate.
  • To construe the statute so as to allow dual inheritance would afford an adopted child a superior status
  • An adopted child has no right to inherit from the estate of a natural parent who dies intestate
  • It follows that the same child may not inherit through the natural parent by way of representation
  • “The Legislature giveth, and the Legislature taketh away”

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