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  1. #1

    Post Court Rules, Readopted Daughter Entitled to Share of 1st Adopted Father's Estate

    Widow Owes Rejected Adopted Daughter Millions, Court Rules (ABC News)

    A New York appeals court has found in favor of a Chinese teen who was adopted by a wealthy couple and then given up for adoption again, ruling that she is entitled to a portion of her first family's $250 million estate.

    In 1996, John and Christine Svenningsen of Westchester, N.Y, adopted a baby girl from China, whom they named Emily Fuqui Svenningsen. Before finalizing the adoption, the couple, who already had four biological children, had one more biological child. Around that same time, John Svenningsen, a party goods magnate, was diagnosed with cancer, according to court documents.

    On May 6, 1996, the Svenningsens signed an adoption agreement stating that they would not abandon Emily or "transfer or have [her] re-adopted," and that she would be deemed "a biological child," according to court papers in the case. The agreement also stated that Emily had the right to inherit the estate of her adopted parents, who had established a pair of trusts for their children, as well as one meant solely for Emily.

    John Svenningsen died in May, 1997.


    In December 2003, Christine brought Emily to The Devereux Glenholme School in Washington, Conn., a boarding school for children with special-needs. According to court papers, her lawyers talked to school administrators about putting Emily up for adoption; the school's assistant executive director, Maryann Campbell, and her husband, Fred Cass, expressed interest in adopting Emily.

    On December 16, 2004, Christine voluntarily surrendered custody of Emily to Spence-Chapin Services to Families and Children, an adoption agency in New York. On May 18, 2006, Campbell and Cass formally adopted Emily.

    According to court papers, neither Campbell nor Cass had any knowledge of the terms of Emily's will or trusts, but eventually they learned that John Svenningsen had arranged to provide for Emily's educational and medical needs. They were sent a letter by Christine's lawyers stating that Emily's trusts totaled $842,397.

    But later, they discovered that a federal tax return valued Svenningsen's estate at more than $250 million. The couple sued on behalf of Emily for a new accounting, but Christine claimed that Emily no longer had any rights to the estate since she was re-adopted. The Westchester County Surrogate's Court disagreed, arguing that John Svenningsen meant to provide for all of his children, both biological and adopted.

    Although Christine and her biological children appealed, on Feb. 6, 2013, the Appellate Division's Brooklyn-based Second Department ruled in Emily's favor.


    "It cannot be overly emphasized that Christine's unilateral surrender of Emily for adoption more than eight years after the decedent and Christine adopted her was not foreseeable at the time the will, and the trust documents were drafted and executed by the decedent," Judge Leonard Austin wrote.
    John Svenningsen, he continued, "expressed an intention to include his adopted child in the absence of any reason to believe that his status as the parent of Emily would be terminated by her subsequent adoption many years after his death."

    Christine Svenningsen, who has since remarried and has spent about $33 million buying 10 of the so-called Thimble Islands in the Long Island Sound, could not be reached for comment.

    Neither Maryann Campbell, nor her lawyer, returned phone calls to ABC News.
    So... let me see if I have this right.
    *Wealthy couple adopt girl and sign agreement that she will never be adopted out again.
    *Wealthy couple establish trusts for all children and father establishes the inheritance and rights of the adopted daughter to his estate.
    *Wealthy father dies.
    *Wealthy widow promptly adopts the child out to another couple and fails to disclose the details of the inheritance.
    *New parents discover the existence of the inheritance and request said inheritance on daughter's behalf, then challenge the value offered upon discovery of further undisclosed details via lawsuit.
    *Adopted girl's former mother and siblings battle the suit in court and lose.

    Apart from the mother's (and sibling's) appalling conduct, I'm confused by some of the legal particulars. Why was this woman allowed to readopt out a child she signed a legal agreement stating that she would not do so? Is such a legal contract binding? (And should it be? I mean, if someone really doesn't want to be a parent, should we force them to? Wouldn't their ability to parent be... seriously questionable?) How would it be enforced? How would it be penalized? I never knew an adopted child could be legally established as a "biological child" either... that is mysterious to me. And ultimately, do you all believe the new adoptive parents had the right to sue the former adoptive parents for previously established financial aid for educational and medical expenses that would've been covered by the trust?
    "The purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things." - Rainer Maria Rilke

  2. #2
    LL P. Stewie Beorn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by iwakar View Post
    Widow Owes Rejected Adopted Daughter Millions, Court Rules (ABC News)



    So... let me see if I have this right.
    *Wealthy couple adopt girl and sign agreement that she will never be adopted out again.
    *Wealthy couple establish trusts for all children and father establishes the inheritance and rights of the adopted daughter to his estate.
    *Wealthy father dies.
    *Wealthy widow promptly adopts the child out to another couple and fails to disclose the details of the inheritance.
    *New parents discover the existence of the inheritance and request said inheritance on daughter's behalf, then challenge the value offered upon discovery of further undisclosed details via lawsuit.
    *Adopted girl's former mother and siblings battle the suit in court and lose.

    Apart from the mother's (and sibling's) appalling conduct, I'm confused by some of the legal particulars. Why was this woman allowed to readopt out a child she signed a legal agreement stating that she would not do so? Is such a legal contract binding? (And should it be? I mean, if someone really doesn't want to be a parent, should we force them to? Wouldn't their ability to parent be... seriously questionable?) How would it be enforced? How would it be penalized? I never knew an adopted child could be legally established as a "biological child" either... that is mysterious to me. And ultimately, do you all believe the new adoptive parents had the right to sue the former adoptive parents for previously established financial aid for educational and medical expenses that would've been covered by the trust?
    Without more details only the decision to withhold the inheritance is obviously reprehensible.

    It seems to me there certainly are circumstances where a child should be readopted out again.
    Take the weakest thing in you
    And then beat the bastards with it
    And always hold on when you get love
    So you can let go when you give it

  3. #3
    LL P. Stewie Beorn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by iwakar View Post
    Widow Owes Rejected Adopted Daughter Millions, Court Rules (ABC News)



    So... let me see if I have this right.
    *Wealthy couple adopt girl and sign agreement that she will never be adopted out again.
    *Wealthy couple establish trusts for all children and father establishes the inheritance and rights of the adopted daughter to his estate.
    *Wealthy father dies.
    *Wealthy widow promptly adopts the child out to another couple and fails to disclose the details of the inheritance.
    *New parents discover the existence of the inheritance and request said inheritance on daughter's behalf, then challenge the value offered upon discovery of further undisclosed details via lawsuit.
    *Adopted girl's former mother and siblings battle the suit in court and lose.

    Apart from the mother's (and sibling's) appalling conduct, I'm confused by some of the legal particulars. Why was this woman allowed to readopt out a child she signed a legal agreement stating that she would not do so? Is such a legal contract binding? (And should it be? I mean, if someone really doesn't want to be a parent, should we force them to? Wouldn't their ability to parent be... seriously questionable?) How would it be enforced? How would it be penalized? I never knew an adopted child could be legally established as a "biological child" either... that is mysterious to me. And ultimately, do you all believe the new adoptive parents had the right to sue the former adoptive parents for previously established financial aid for educational and medical expenses that would've been covered by the trust?
    Without more details only the decision to withhold the inheritance is obviously reprehensible.

    It seems to me there certainly are circumstances where a child should be readopted out again.
    Take the weakest thing in you
    And then beat the bastards with it
    And always hold on when you get love
    So you can let go when you give it

  4. #4
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    Well, it sounds like she was a special needs child.

    At least when we went through the adoption process in China (which was in 2002), you could file to adopt a healthy child OR file to adopt a special needs child. At that point in time, you were ensured a faster track to adopt a special needs child; otherwise you'd have to wait. There are also various tax write offs, I think. These children can be anywhere from cleft palate (something that can easily be surgically fixed) to children with Down's syndrome, blindness, deafness, etc. I have no idea of the degree of Emily's special needs, I just assume she had some since she was brought to such a school and the mother decided to put her up.

    I would like to give the mother a benefit of a doubt, although I can't tell whether that is reasonable or not. The parents adopted a special needs child with the thought both parents could provide care, then the husband got sick and died. The mother spent the next six years caring for the girl, then if we give the benefit of a doubt simply could not do it anymore and thus chose to give her up for adoption again. The major problem with that is how rich that estate was; the mother should have been able to afford help and health care for the special needs child, regardless, even if she herself could not commit as much time was needed.

    As far as the legal document about not putting her up for readoption, I can't tell whether that was the US agency they went through that they were pledging to, or the Chinese government, or who exactly. I think we had to sign a bunch of papers to China saying that same kind of thing. China was always very bureaucratic and particular; we had to sign many papers and make certain pledges that seemed ridiculous to us but to them was part of controlling and ordering the process.

    I think personally (unless there are mitigating circumstances) that this girl could be part of that family for six years after the father's death, but then the mother would put her up for readoption and then try to break the original agreement. I mean, when we went to adopt, we were actually first offered a girl from Vietnam, then found out 24 hours later that her parents had requested she not be adopted outside the country, so we were forced to wait over a year before another child (in China) was available. We had that first girl's papers, we knew her name, and we only knew of her for 24 hours, and it was difficult to let go of the thought of adopting her; we even wrote a letter (translated for us by someone on staff) to the family saying that we would take care of her and love her, and asking them to please reconsider, but it just didn't work out. That was one day. I can't imagine how someone could adopt a baby, care for her for 6-7 years, then put her up for readoption AND try to cut her out of her inheritance. If I could not reasonably care for my child, then yes, maybe put them up to be adopted by a family who could love her better; but I would still love her and WANT to give her the inheritance she had as part of my family, especially if I was wealthy. I don't get it.

    it almost comes across as if they wanted to adopt a special needs child because of religious reasons or something, or only the husband really wanted her, and eventually the mother found a way to break the agreement after he had been dead for some years. But I really don't know.
    "Hey Capa -- We're only stardust." ~ "Sunshine"

    “Pleasure to me is wonder—the unexplored, the unexpected, the thing that is hidden and the changeless thing that lurks behind superficial mutability. To trace the remote in the immediate; the eternal in the ephemeral; the past in the present; the infinite in the finite; these are to me the springs of delight and beauty.” ~ H.P. Lovecraft

  5. #5
    LL P. Stewie Beorn's Avatar
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    What kept me from making a judgment was the fact that they had a biological child of the exact same age as the adopted special-needs child. No amount of money is going to fix a problem that arises from that situation.
    Take the weakest thing in you
    And then beat the bastards with it
    And always hold on when you get love
    So you can let go when you give it

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    Oooh, more links.
    And even a picture.
    http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/...icle-1.1265493

    Of note:

    “Christine maintains that Emily was a difficult child and unable to bond with the family,” a probate court decision said.

    “In December 2003, Svenningsen placed Emily at the Devereux Glenholme School based upon a diagnosis of Reactive Attachment Disorder,” which occurs when a person has severe problems relating to other people, Judge Anthony Scarpino wrote.

    “The staff at Devereux did not concur with the diagnosis,” Scarpino said.

    Soon after Emily was enrolled, Svenningsen’s lawyers told school administrators she wanted to give the girl up for adoption — news that thrilled Devereux staffer Maryann Campbell, who often cared for Emily on the weekends with her husband and felt “bonded” with her. Campbell and her husband agreed to adopt Emily — but Svenningsen never mentioned to them or the adoption agency that she had been named as a beneficiary in John Svenningsen’s will.

    They remained in the dark until 2007, when one of the lawyers for John Svenningsen’s estate told them there was a trust that could help with her medical expenses. When they tried to find out more, they were stonewalled — and then found out through court filings that she would be entitled to a share of her first adopted father’s estate at an unspecified date.

    Also:
    http://law.justia.com/cases/new-york...010-20364.html

    Petitioners have provided the court with a "Notarial Certificate of Adoption" dated May 8, 1996 which was issued in China.{**29 Misc 3d at 790} In addition, petitioners submit a copy of an "Agreement for Parties to an Adoption Registration" (the adoption agreement) wherein the adopters, decedent and Christine, agreed not to have the adoptee, Emily, readopted and that "[t]he adoptee shall have the right to inherit the adopters' estate."[FN3] Upon returning home from China, an announcement of Emily's [*4]adoption was sent to friends and family.
    That sounds like paperwork we also filled out in China when adopting our daughter. It's one of the many papers the Chinese government requests that you sign, I think.

    And
    There is no dispute that Emily is a beneficiary under the 1996 Trust as she is expressly named therein (Domestic Relations Law § 117 [2] [a]).
    It is also undisputed that Emily's interest under article third (D) of decedent's will, the credit shelter, vested at decedent's{**29 Misc 3d at 792} death.
    Anyway, there's a lot of explanation provided as to the rationale of the decision.
    "Hey Capa -- We're only stardust." ~ "Sunshine"

    “Pleasure to me is wonder—the unexplored, the unexpected, the thing that is hidden and the changeless thing that lurks behind superficial mutability. To trace the remote in the immediate; the eternal in the ephemeral; the past in the present; the infinite in the finite; these are to me the springs of delight and beauty.” ~ H.P. Lovecraft

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    Quote Originally Posted by Beorn View Post
    What kept me from making a judgment was the fact that they had a biological child of the exact same age as the adopted special-needs child. No amount of money is going to fix a problem that arises from that situation.
    What, that they're raising two children of the same age at the same time? She obviously is quite able to maintain ten islands in Long Island and thr structures and facilities on those islands, despite just being one person, due to all the money she has. One does have to ask whether she would have put the girl up for adoption if she hadn't been adopted originally. (Not saying that to be snooty; it's just, would it have crossed her mind to do so in that situation?)

    Anyway, it's difficult to tell what was going on. The mom says she didn't bond with the family; the family who adopted her says they bond just fine and that she's thriving, but then again, they seem to be temperamentally suited for that kind of connection (it's their profession). So maybe they're more patient. I don't know.

    The legal precedents all seem rather clear though. Basically the ruling seems to me to just say that the original family has to provide all the figures to the new family rather than keeping them in the dark as they did; there were a number of trusts set up, and the money legally does belong to Emily when it comes due. Some of the bio children weren't mentioned by name in a few of the trusts but there was an understanding they were obviously included, as was Emily; and she was expressly mentioned in the 1996 trust along with Sara the youngest bio child.
    "Hey Capa -- We're only stardust." ~ "Sunshine"

    “Pleasure to me is wonder—the unexplored, the unexpected, the thing that is hidden and the changeless thing that lurks behind superficial mutability. To trace the remote in the immediate; the eternal in the ephemeral; the past in the present; the infinite in the finite; these are to me the springs of delight and beauty.” ~ H.P. Lovecraft

  8. #8
    LL P. Stewie Beorn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jennifer View Post
    What, that they're raising two children of the same age at the same time? She obviously is quite able to maintain ten islands in Long Island and thr structures and facilities on those islands, despite just being one person, due to all the money she has.
    You can hire someone to deal with various islands, but dealing with complicated family dynamics can be a little trickier and requires more hands on involvement. . If she was special needs and in particular if those special needs included behavioral issues it would cause major problems for a family with children of the same age as the adoptee or younger. As I'm sure you're well aware an adopted child is going to be very sensitive to how they are treated compared to natural born siblings. If they have abnormal behavioral issues it's almost impossible to treat them the same as younger or same-age children and those sensitivities will be compounded or worst the parent gives in to guilt-tripping by the child ("you don't love me as much as your real children") and doesn't follow through patiently with needed discipline.
    Take the weakest thing in you
    And then beat the bastards with it
    And always hold on when you get love
    So you can let go when you give it

  9. #9
    LL P. Stewie Beorn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jennifer View Post
    What, that they're raising two children of the same age at the same time? She obviously is quite able to maintain ten islands in Long Island and thr structures and facilities on those islands, despite just being one person, due to all the money she has.
    You can hire someone to deal with various islands, but dealing with complicated family dynamics can be a little trickier and requires more hands on involvement. . If she was special needs and in particular if those special needs included behavioral issues it would cause major problems for a family with children of the same age as the adoptee or younger. As I'm sure you're well aware an adopted child is going to be very sensitive to how they are treated compared to natural born siblings. If they have abnormal behavioral issues it's almost impossible to treat them the same as younger or same-age children and those sensitivities will be compounded or worst the parent gives in to guilt-tripping by the child ("you don't love me as much as your real children") and doesn't follow through patiently with needed discipline.
    Take the weakest thing in you
    And then beat the bastards with it
    And always hold on when you get love
    So you can let go when you give it

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