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Saturday, May 25, 2024 | Back issues
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Rich Widow Owes Girl She Took In & Gave Away

(CN) - A girl who was adopted by a wealthy couple and then given away again is entitled to a share of the first adoptive family's $250 million fortune, a New York appeals court ruled.

John and Christine Svenningsen had four children when they decided to adopt a child from China in 1996. Before they had finalized the adoption of the girl, whom they named Emily Fuqui Svenningsen, the couple had a fifth biological child and John was diagnosed with cancer that would kill him about a year later.

The adoption agreement that the Svenningsens signed included a provision that they would not "transfer or have her re-adopted" and that they would "deem her a biological child." It also gave Emily the right to inherit her new parents' estate.

Around that time, the Svenningsens established a pair of trusts for their children, as well as one meant solely for Emily.

Some years later, in December 2003, the widowed Christine brought Emily to a boarding school for special-needs children, and her attorneys talked to school administrators about putting Emily up for adoption.

Having bonded with Emily, the school's assistant executive director, Maryann Campbell, and her husband, Fred Cass, volunteered to take custody.

Christine's attorneys eventually later sent the new parents a letter informing them that Emily's trust interests totaled $842,397. Campbell and Cass later discovered a federal tax return that stated that valued Svenningsen's estate at more than $250 million.

After the couple sued for accounting, Christine and the estate replied that Emily no longer had a claim to the estate since her re-adoption.

The in Westchester County Surrogate's Court ruled in the child's favor, stating that Svenningsen meant to provide for all of his children, including the one he adopted.

Christine and her biological children appealed, but the Appellate Division's Brooklyn-based Second Department affirmed last week.

"It cannot be overly emphasized that Christine's unilateral surrender of Emily for adoption more than eight years after the decedent and Christine adopted her was not foreseeable at the time the will and the trust documents were drafted and executed by the decedent," Judge Leonard Austin wrote for a four-member panel.

"Further, at the time of the decedent's death, Emily was not an 'adopted-out' child but instead was, and remained, his issue, as defined by the trust instruments, despite the subsequent unforeseeable actions of Christine," he added.

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