McIntyre Tate partner David J. Strachman published an article "Equitable Adoption Doctrine" in the January edition of the Rhode Island Bar Association Journal. The article describes how the equitable adoption doctrine can be used in probate cases to assist step-children and others who fall outside of the inheritance statue. The article stems from a case David recently litigated in the Pawtucket probate court on behalf of a step-child who ordinarily would be unable to inherit from his recently deceased step father parent.
The equitable adoption doctrine helps remedy what would otherwise create an inequitable result. As one commentator stated,
The doctrine is applied in an intestate estate to give effect to the intent of the decedent to adopt and provide for the child.It is not applicable where the decedent dies testate.. .
Equitable adoption only affects the child's rights against the intestate estate of an adoptive parent and not of a natural parent.By one view, the reach of the decree of equitable adoption has been limited to allowing the equitable adopted child to inherit from the adoptive parent but not to inherit through the collateral kin.Other courts have recognized that the doctrine may also be applied to allow the child to inherit from a blood relative of the adoptive parent
In the Pawtucket case, the stepchild sought judicial recognition of his relationship in the probate estate proceeding and a share of his stepparent's estate. This type of situation is arising with greater frequency in Rhode Island. The case applied the equitable adoption doctrine for the first time in a Rhode Island probate matter and can serve as precedent in future probate cases.