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Adopting Your Lover - a Clever Estate Planning Strategy that Could Land You in Jail (in some states)

In early 2010, Florida multi-millionaire John Goodman allegedly ran a stop sign and collided with a vehicle driven by Scott Wilson.  Wilson's car went into nearby water and Wilson drowned.  Police found Goodman to have more than the legal limit of alcohol in his system and Goodman faces numerous criminal charges.  Wilson's family filed a lawsuit against Goodman.  If the Wilson family prevails, they would seek to collect against Goodman's considerable assets.  However, there is one asset that the Wilsons cannot touch - the trust fund that Goodman established for his children years ago because legally Goodman has no control over that trust.  Thus it is possible that Goodman could be financially wiped out by a judgment against him.

As described in a very interesting article by Syracuse University Law School Professor Terry Turnipseed, here entered some clever estate planning.  Goodman, 48 adopted his 42 year-old girlfriend, Heather Hutchins.  When Goodman adopted Hutchins, she legally became his child and thus entitled to one-third of the funds in the trust.  Because of her age, Hutchins has immediate access to her share of a considerable amount of money and thus Hutchins could enable Goodman to continue to have an affluent lifestyle.  So that's a pretty clever way to at least partially evade some huge financial problems.

However, as Professor Turnipseed points out, there are other serious potential ramifications such as incest - 25 U.S. states and territories include sexual intercourse between parents and adult-age adopted children in the definition of the crime of incest.  However, as Professor Turnipseed also points out, this will not be a problem for Goodman and Hutchins in Florida since that state does not include their relationship in the definition of incest.

In Pennsylvania, however, a parent-child relationship, even if between parent and adopted adult child, does fit in the definition of incest - a second degree felony:


18 Pa.C.S.A. § 4302
§ 4302. Incest

(a) General rule.--Except as provided under subsection (b), a person is guilty of incest, a felony of the second degree, if that person knowingly marries or cohabits or has sexual intercourse with an ancestor or descendant, a brother or sister of the whole or half blood or an uncle, aunt, nephew or niece of the whole blood.
(b) Incest of a minor.--A person is guilty of incest of a minor, a felony of the second degree, if that person knowingly marries, cohabits with or has sexual intercourse with a complainant who is an ancestor or descendant, a brother or sister of the whole or half blood or an uncle, aunt, nephew or niece of the whole blood and:
(1) is under the age of 13 years; or
(2) is 13 to 18 years of age and the person is four or more years older than the complainant.
(c) Relationships.--The relationships referred to in this section include blood relationships without regard to legitimacy, and relationship of parent and child by adoption.

While there may not be concerted campaigns to arrest and prosecute adults related by adoption who are sleeping together, the possibility is there in those states which such conduct is within the definition of incest.  Those considering such adoptions should thus be cautious.

There is, of course, another reason to be cautious about using adoption as such a planning tool.  What if the relationship breaks up.  A romantic relationship can be ended and married couples can divorce but the parent-child relationship created by an adoption is not so easily put aside.

Readers should not solely rely on this note as legal advice but should consult with a competent attorney licensed in their state. You can also find more information in our firm's websites on Family Law and Wills and Estate Planning and Administration.

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