In Florida, You Cannot Manipulate a Trust with an Adult Adoption

Florida is one of many states that allow adult adoption, which is often used to allow a stepparent to adopt a stepchild later in life. See Fla. Stat. § 63.042. Florida has, however, limited this ability in certain circumstances, such as adopting one’s spouse. See Fla. Stat. § 63.042(2)(c) (finding that a married person may not adopt his or her spouse). But, unlike other states, adoptees are presumed to be descendants of their adoptive parents for the purposes of intestate succession and class gifts. See Fla. Stat. § 732.108; see also Fla. Stat. § 732.608. This is unlike other similar provisions, such as the Uniform Probate Code §2-705, which limits an adult adoptee’s right to inherit through class gift provisions of wills and other governing instruments.

Because of these statutory provisions, Florida courts have found that the “public policy of Florida expressly permits the adoption of adults.” Dennis v. Kline, 2013 WL 3014115 (Fla. 4th DCA June 19, 2013) (quoting In re Adoption of Holland, 965 So. 2d 1213, 1214 (Fla. 5th DCA 2007). “Such policy is articulated through the wording of the Florida statutes, which provide, with minimal qualification, that any person, whether a minor or an adult, may be adopted.” Id. (citing Fla. Stat. § 63.042). Therefore, if a will or trust creates a class of “descendants” in Florida, that class includes the adopted adult.

However, according to a recent Third District Court of Appeals opinion, the court can void an adoption due to a violation of due process if no notice is given to those parties whose financial interests under a trust will be directly affected by the adoption. Goodman v. Goodman, 2013 WL 1222944 (Fla. 3d DCA March 27, 2013) (citing Fla. Stat. § 63.182). This case arose after multimillionaire polo mogul John Goodman adopted his 43-year old girlfriend in 2011, which entitled her to a third of a $300 million trust fund. This irrevocable trust was established in 1991 by Goodman and his now ex-wife to benefit Goodman’s two children from their marriage and provided that all Goodman’s children were to share equally in the trust. However, in 2010, Goodman and his ex-wife became involved in litigation over the management of the trust’s assets.

Goodman’s subsequent adoption of his girlfriend converted her into an immediate beneficiary of the trust, thereby reducing Goodman’s minor children’s shares from one-half to one-third. Goodman did not notify his ex-wife or the guardian ad litem of his minor children until after the period to appeal the final judgment of the adult adoption had expired in January 2012. The court determined that the adoption was void because “Goodman’s deliberate failure to provide notice of the adoption to the guardian and [ex-wife] constituted a fraud on the court” and deprived the children and their representatives of an opportunity to present their objections to the court. Therefore, if an adult adoption affects the beneficiaries of a preexisting trust, those beneficiaries or their representatives must be notified pursuant to this statute.

If you or someone you know has an issue regarding the effects of an adoption on a will or trust, please do not hesitate to contact the law offices of Chepenik Trushin LLP. The experienced attorneys at Chepenik Trushin are ready, willing, and able to assist with your estate planning needs. Please feel free to contact us for an initial consultation.