Estate of Hines, No. 06-20-00007-CV, 2020 WL 5948803 (Tex. App.—Texarkana Oct. 8, 2020, no pet. h.).


Equitable Adoption

The trial court conducted a determination of heirship and concluded that the intestate did not equitably adopt a step-son and thus he was not an heir. The step-son appealed.

The appellate court affirmed. The court examined evidence which showed that the step-son began living with the intestate when he was about ten years old. Friends and neighbors described the interactions between the intestate and step-son. They appeared to be how a step-father and a step-son would normally interact. There was also evidence that step-father had told step-son and other family members that step-father agreed to adopt step-son. However, there was no evidence that the biological father agreed to terminate parental rights while step-son was a minor and step-son took no legal steps to be adopted upon reaching majority. All of step-son’s legal documents used his own last name, not that of the step-father.

The court then explained that much more evidence is needed to demonstrate an equitable adoption. Equitable adoption may exist “when [a person’s] efforts to adopt [a child] are ineffective because of failure to strictly comply with statutory procedures or because, out of neglect or design, agreements to adopt are not performed.” The court held that there was sufficient evidence to support the trial court’s finding that there was insufficient evidence of the type of agreement needed to trigger an adoption by estoppel existed. Evidence of a close relationship similar to that of a parent and child itself is not enough.

Moral:  If a step-child wants assurance that he or she will be treated as a legal child of a step-parent when an adoption is not (or cannot) be done while the child is a minor, the step-child should be legally adopted upon reaching the age of majority.