The Sixth Appellate District in the Court of Appeal of the State of California filed a decision on July 30, 2015 in Sanders v. Yanez. The issue on appeal was whether an adult adoption pursuant to the Texas adoption laws encompassed the same rights and duties as a California parent-child relationship.
Ms. Sanders petitioned the Superior Court regarding a family testamentary Trust and requested the Court find that her recently adopted son be recognized as a beneficiary. Ms. Sanders is a co-trustee and an income beneficiary of this Trust. The Trust provides that upon the death of Ms. Sanders her issue will receive the Trust’s assets, and issue is defined as including adopted children. Specifically “the word ‘issue’ as used in this Will shall refer to lawful lineal descendants of all degrees and shall include legally adopted children.” The written instrument defined “issue” for all purposes related to the testamentary Trust.
California courts are required to interpret a written instrument “according to the generally accepted canons of interpretation so that the purposes of the instrument may be given effect.” Parsons v. Bristol Development Co. (1965) 62 Cal.2d 861, 865.
The Sanders Court differentiated the immediate case from the facts of Ehrenclou v. MacDonald (2004) 117 Cal.App.4th 364 wherein an adult adoption under the laws of Colorado “create(s) in the adoptee only the status as heir at law to the person adopting, and such adoptee does not, by virtue of the adoption, become a ‘child’ or ‘issue’ of the person so adopting, and inheritance flows only through intestate succession of the adopting person and not as ‘issue’ of such persons.”
The Monterey County Superior Court concluded that Ms. Sanders’ adopted son does not fall within the definition of issue because he had been adopted as an adult under Texas adoption statutes. The Court of Appeal concluded that the Superior Court decision was not supported by the law, reversed the Superior Court order and remanded with directions to grant Ms. Sanders’ petition.