Placing a child for adoption is one of the most loving and brave choices a birth parent can make for a child. However, the birth parent may not realize that this choice should be documented in their last will and testament. In fact, unless clearly stated otherwise, the child could be considered a pretermitted heir — an heir who has been ignored or omitted in a person’s will. In Oklahoma, a child who has been placed for adoption still has a right to inherit from her birth parents and grandparents.
Rogers v. Estate of Pratt
On May 5, 2020, the Oklahoma Supreme Court issued a ruling concerning the disinheritance of a child who had been placed for adoption in Rogers v. Estate of Pratt. Judith Pratt gave birth to a child in 1962 who was adopted shortly after birth and given the name Robinson Kenneth Rogers. In the 1980s, mother and son reconnected and maintained a relationship for a brief period.
In 2017, Judith engaged in estate planning with an attorney, including a last will and testament. Her signed will read as follows:
“I further state and declare that I am a widow; that my husband, Leland Pratt, has predeceased me; that I have no children. I further state that I have numerous other living relatives and that it is my specific intention that they or their heirs receive absolutely nothing from my estate, except as stated hereinafter.”
Judith passed away in 2018 and her estate was admitted to probate the same year. Robinson K. Rogers filed an application in the probate to inherit as a pretermitted heir. The trial court entered an order holding that the will was not ambiguous, that the statement that Judith had no children was presumably false, and that the statement – combined with a complete disposition of the estate – was evidence of an intent to exclude Robinson from inheriting from her estate. Robinson K. Rogers received nothing at the trial court level.
However, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court, determined that the evidence was insufficient to show that the testator intentionally omitted Rogers as a pretermitted heir, and ultimately ruled that Rogers should inherit from the estate of his biological mother.
Disinheriting a Child
You can express intent in your last will and testament to disinherit a child in any of these five ways, according to the case history in Oklahoma:
- Expressly state that the named child is to receive nothing.
- Provide only a nominal amount for the child who claims to be pretermitted.
- Name a child, but then leave them nothing.
- Declare any child claiming to be pretermitted take nothing.
- Specifically deny the existence of members of a class to which the claimant belongs coupled with a complete disposition of the estate.
Disinheriting a child is a very emotional decision, as is placing a child for adoption. This decision affects the biological parent and other relatives as well. As a grandparent, if you have a grandchild who was adopted by another family, unless your estate planning documents exclude that child, he/she will be entitled to inherit from your estate.
If you, or a family member, ever placed a child for adoption, you must be specific and clear in your estate planning documents to prevent ambiguity after your death. Contact your estate planning attorney to discuss your decisions.