Lankford v. Wright Case Brief

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					Lankford v. Wright 374 N.C. 115, 489 S.E.2d 604 (1997)
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Lankford was born and unofficially adopted by her mother's neighbor (the Newtons). She lived her entire life acting as if the Newtons were her true parents. Mrs. Newton had prepared a will, but it was damaged, so when she died, the will was declared invalid. Lankford filed for a declaratory judgment declaring her to be the heir of Newton's estate. Newton's administrator (Wright), and Newton's other relatives filed to block the declaration. The Trial Court granted Wright's motion. Lankford appealed. o The Trial Court found that Lankford had never been officially adopted as per North Carolina State law. o Lankford argued that there was an equitable adoption, but North Carolina common law does not recognize equitable adoption.  Equitable adoption is similar to common-law marriage, where people act as parent and child even though they never make it 'official'. The North Carolina Supreme Court reversed. o The North Carolina Supreme Court found that the State should adopt the doctrine of equitable adoption.  "Equitable adoption protects the interests of a person who was supposed to have been adopted as a child but whose adoptive parents failed to undertake the legal steps necessary to formally accomplish the adoption."  Elements necessary to establish equitable adoption for inheritance purposes are:  An express or implied agreement to adopt.  Reliance on that agreement.  Natural parents giving up the child.  The child living with the adoptive parents.  The adoptive parents taking care of the child.  The adoptive parents dying intestate.

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In a dissent it was argued that the North Carolina legislature had quite clearly established guidelines for adoption and inheritance and the courts should follow them. o In addition, it was argued that a contract to adopt a child is not a contract to devise or bequeath property to that child. Equitable adoption is really only applicable to inheritance situations. It isn't used for other family law issues. o Remember, a person who has been equitably adopted can inherit from an adoptive parent, but cannot inherit through as adopted parent.


				
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