Pangarova v. Nichols

In Pangarova v. Nichols, 419 P.2d 688 (Wyo. 1966), a man and his wife wrote numerous letters to their adult niece in Bulgaria, offering to adopt her and to make her their heir if she would come to Casper, Wyoming, to live with them. Id. at 690. The niece eventually did come to Casper and moved into the home of her uncle and his new wife, his first wife having died. Id. And the uncle did, indeed, make a will naming his niece as the sole beneficiary of his estate. Id. at 690-93. Unfortunately, the niece and the new wife did not get along, the niece moved out, and the uncle drafted a new will leaving everything to his new wife. Upon the uncle's death, the niece filed an action seeking damages for breach of the contact to adopt her and to make her an heir. Id. at 693-94. The district court directed a verdict against the niece. In reversing and remanding for a new trial, this Court emphasized that the alleged contract did not deal solely with adoption, but promised that the uncle would make the niece his heir. The Court concluded that "such contracts are not uncommon in the case of minor children and are 'generally construed to impose upon the adoptive parent an obligation to make the child an heir, which equity will specifically enforce.'" Id. at 695 (quoting R.P. Davis, Annotation, Specific Performance of, or Status of Child Under, Contract to Adopt Not Fully Performed, 171 A.L.R. 1315, 1318 (1947)). This quoted language, taken from an annotation concerning enforcement of a contract to adopt, appears to be at least an indirect acceptance of the concept of equitable adoption. However, the quoted language is followed immediately in the opinion by this sentence: "Our difficulty here is that an adult is involved." Pangarova, 419 P.2d at 695. Thereafter, the Court pursued neither that general issue--adoption of an adult--nor the specific issue of equitable adoption of an adult. Instead, the Court cited several cases where the contract being enforced in equity was not simply a contract to adopt, but also contained a promise to make the adoptee an heir. Id. at 695-96. On appeal after retrial, a jury verdict in favor of the niece was affirmed. Nichols v. Pangarova, 443 P.2d 756 (Wyo. 1968). While reference is made in the second opinion to "a contract that decedent would adopt her and make her his heir," the concept of equitable adoption is not directly discussed. Nichols, 443 P.2d at 758. Instead, the discussion focuses on "a contract to devise or bequeath property," "an oral contract to make a will," and "an agreement to will property." Id. at 759, 761 and 762.