Florida multimillionaire John Goodman (no, not that John Goodman) faced the prospect of bankruptcy when he was sued by the parents of a young man he killed in a drunk-driving accident. He did have a massive trust fund set up for his children, but there was no way he could get access to that money.
Enter the shrewd estate planning attorney who recommended that the 48-year-old Goodman adopt his 42-year-old girlfriend, Heather Laruso Hutchins, thus making her a beneficiary of the trust that Wilson’s parents cannot mention or touch. (In this arrangement, Hutchins is the beneficiary to roughly $70 million, which she would presumably share with Goodman, her doting dad-slash-boyfriend.) Elegant. Brilliant. And actually not that uncommon, it turns out.
Believe it or not, there is a growing trend in this country of adopting one’s adult lover or spouse for various reasons: to better guarantee the adoptee’s right to inherit directly from the adoptor; to keep other relatives from having any standing to contest an estate plan; or, as in Goodman’s case, to add a spouse or lover to a class of trust beneficiaries, allowing the “child” to inherit from the “parent.” Courts around the country are struggling to figure out whether these adoptions should be upheld or not.
Clever. Sleazy and sick, but undeniably clever.
Slate asks the obvious question: wouldn’t the relationship between Goodman and Hutchins be considered incest, now that she is legally his daughter? It would in some states, but not Florida:
But before you go out and adopt your lover, there is one pretty serious repercussion you should consider: Are you committing incest? An incest conviction can result in serious jail time. And think about it: The adopter is having sexual relations with his or her legal child. Is that not incest?
For as long as anyone can remember, almost all cultures have outlawed at least some form of sexual relations and/or marriage between family members. Written prohibitions can be traced as far back as the Levitical Codes. Incest is a statutory crime that has been around in America since colonial times.
My research indicates that today at least 25 states and territories, representing over 140.8 million people (approximately 46 percent of the total population) in the United States, are subject to laws that include the adopted parent/adult child relationship within the definition of incest. That means a good many adult adoptions solve one legal problem but create an arguably worse one. Fortunately for both Goodman and his daughter/girlfriend, Florida is not one of these states. Otherwise, they might find themselves facing criminal prosecution, as have adopters and adoptees elsewhere.
Insert your own Woody Allen reference here.
(via The Volokh Conspiracy)