Law School Case Brief
Hall v. Vallandingham - 75 Md. App. 187, 540 A.2d 1162 (1988)
Md. Code Ann., Fam. Law § 5-308 provides, in part: (b) After a decree of adoption is entered: (1) the individual adopted:(i) is the child of the petitioner for all intents and purposes; and (ii) 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; (2) each living natural parent of the individual adopted is:(i) relieved of all parental duties and obligations to the individual adopted; and (ii) divested of all parental rights as to the individual adopted; and (3) all rights of inheritance between the individual adopted and the natural relations shall be governed by the Estates and Trusts Article. Md. Code Ann., Est. & Trusts § 1-207(a), provides: 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 J. Vallandingham died in 1956, survived by his widow, Elizabeth, and their four children. Two years later, Elizabeth married Jim Walter Killgore, who adopted the children. Twenty-five years after the adoption of Earl's children by Killgore, Earl's brother, William Jr., died childless, unmarried, and intestate. His sole heirs were his surviving brothers and sisters and the children of brothers and sisters who predeceased him. The four natural children of Earl alleged that they were entitled to the distributive share of their natural uncle's estate that their natural father would have received had he survived William. The Circuit Court for St. Mary's County (Maryland) determined that the children, because of their adoption by their adoptive father, were not entitled to inherit from their natural uncle's estate.
Can Earl's children inherit from their natural uncle even if they have been adopted by someone else?
The court affirmed the circuit court, concluding that the legislature's elimination of dual inheritance and emphasis in Md. Code Ann. Est. & Trusts § 1-207(a) and Md. Code Ann. Fam. Law § 5-308, on clean-cut severance from the natural bloodline, meant that once the children were adopted, there was a "rebirth" into a completely different relationship and the rights of the natural relatives terminated. The court held that because Md. Code Ann. Est. & Trusts § 1-207(a) eliminated the children's right to inherit from the natural parent, it concomitantly abrogated their right to inherit through the natural parent by way of representation.
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