Wheeling Dollar Savings & Trust Co. v. Singer

In Wheeling Dollar Savings & Trust Co. v. Singer, 162 W.Va. 502, 250 S.E.2d 369 (1978), the Court found a person could prove they had been "equitably adopted" by a decedent by showing that, from an age of tender years, they had stood in a position exactly equivalent to that of a formally adopted or natural child. If the person showed they had been equitably adopted by the decedent, then the person could inherit just as could a formally adopted or natural child. This rule was crafted in recognition of the fact that many "informal" parent-child relationships arise in our society, relationships that are never given a statutory or legal imprimatur: While formal adoption is the only safe route, in many instances a child will be raised by persons not his parents from an age of tender years, treated as a natural child, and represented to others as a natural or adopted child. In many instances, the child will believe himself to be the natural or formally "adopted" child of the "adoptive" parents only to be treated as an outcast upon their death. We cannot ascertain any reasonable distinction between a child treated in all regards as an adopted child but who has been led to rely to his detriment upon the existence of formal legal paperwork imagined but never accomplished, and a formally adopted child. Our family centered society presumes that bonds of love and loyalty will prevail in the distribution of family wealth along family lines, and only by affirmative action, i.e., writing a will, may this presumption be overcome. An equitably adopted child in practical terms is as much a family member as a formally adopted child and should not be the subject of discrimination. He will be as loyal to his adoptive parents, take as faithful care of them in their old age, and provide them with as much financial and emotional support in their vicissitudes, as any natural or formally adopted child. (162 W.Va. at 508, 250 S.E.2d at 373.)