Law School Case Brief
In re Estates of Donnelly - 81 Wash. 2d 430, 502 P.2d 1163 (1972)
Wash Rev. Code § 11.04.085 declares that an adopted child is not to be considered an heir of his natural parents: A lawfully adopted child shall not be considered an "heir" of his natural parents for purposes of this title.
John J. and Lily Donnelly, husband and wife, had two children, a daughter, Kathleen M., now Kathleen M. Kelly, and a son, John J., Jr. The son had one child, Jean Louise Donnelly, but Jean Louise's father, John J. Donnelly, Jr., died less than a year after her birth. Her mother remarried, and by a court decree the granddaughter was adopted by her stepfather with the written consent of her natural mother. She lived with her mother and adoptive father as their child and kept the adopted father's surname Hansen until her marriage to Donald J. Iverson. Lily Donnelly, the grandmother, died leaving a will in which she named but left nothing to her two children. All of her property she left to her husband, John J. Donnelly, Sr., Jean Louise's natural grandfather. Six years later, the natural grandfather, leaving a will in which he left his entire estate to his wife, Lily, who had predeceased him. He, too, named but left nothing to his two children, and made no provision for disposition of his property in event his wife predeceased him. His daughter, Kathleen M. Kelly, as administratrix with wills annexed of the estates of her parents, brought this petition to determine heirship and for a declaration that the granddaughter, take nothing and that she, the daughter, be adjudged the sole heir of her parents, to the exclusion of her niece and decedent's natural granddaughter. The trial court ruled that both the daughter and the granddaughter were his heirs, finding that the adopted granddaughter could inherit from her natural grandparents. The court of appeals affirmed.
May an adopted child inherit from her natural grandparents?
The Supreme Court of Washington found that the granddaughter was prevented from inheriting from the decedent under Wash. Rev. Code § 11.04.015. The court found that Wash. Rev. Code § 11.04.085, under which an adopted child could not be an heir of his natural parents, also cut off the inheritance from the natural grandparents as well. The granddaughter's adoption thus broke the natural line of inheritance. The court's conclusion rested on the intent of § 11.04.085 to transfer all rights of inheritance out of the natural family upon adoption and place them entirely within the adopted family. As the granddaughter could not take from her natural father, she could not represent him and take from his father.
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