In re Estate of Seader

In In re Estate of Seader, 76 P.3d 1236 (Wyo. 2003), the Wyoming Supreme Court declined to find an equitable adoption in a stepparent/stepchild situation, explaining as follows: "The stepparent-stepchild relationship . . . calls for particular circumspection before recognizing an equitable adoption. Courts have seldom applied the doctrine of equitable adoption or its equivalents to treat a stepparent as an adoptive parent.. . . One reason is the appreciation that it is in the public interest for stepparents to be generous and loving with their stepchildren. Such conduct could be discouraged if a consequence of such kindness toward a stepchild would be the imposition on the stepparent of the legal incidents of parenthood, such as a duty to provide child support after divorce or a reallocation of the stepparent's estate after death." Id. at 1246. The Court quoted, as have several courts, a passage from 2 Am. Jur. 2d Adoption 53, at 929-30 (2005): "Generally speaking, the theory of recovery in an equitable adoption case is founded upon either equitable principles or upon the theory of estoppel. In the former it is a judicial remedy for an unperformed contract of legal adoption or, in the alternative, the ordering of specific performance of an implied contract to adopt. The estoppel theory operates to preclude a party from asserting the invalidity of a status of an "adopted" child for inheritance purposes. It has been said that a so-called "equitable adoption" is no more than a legal fiction permitting specific performance of a contract to adopt. Furthermore, the descriptive phrase "adoption by estoppel" has been described as a shorthand method of saying that because of the promises, acts and conduct of an intestate deceased, those claiming under and through him are estopped to assert that a child was not legally adopted or did not occupy the status of an adopted child. An adoption by estoppel is an equitable remedy to protect the interests of a person who was supposed to have been adopted as a child but whose adoptive parents failed to undertake the legal steps necessary to formally accomplish the adoption; the doctrine is applied in an intestate estate to give effect to the intent of the decedent to adopt and provide for the child. The doctrine is predicated on principles of contract law and equitable enforcement of the agreement to adopt for the purpose of securing the benefits of adoption that would otherwise flow from the adoptive parent under the laws of intestacy had the agreement to adopt been carried out; as such it is essentially a matter of equitable relief." (Estate of Seader, 76 P.3d at 1240.)