Adopted Child and Inheritance Rights

B. Tam Nomoto, an Orange County Municipal Court judge, answers readers' questions about the law. Ask the Judge runs every other Saturday in Orange County Life

Q Thirty years ago, I gave up a child for adoption. Eight months later, I married her father.

Four years ago, we made out a will and when we were asked if we had any children, we responded "No."

Three years ago, our child "found" us. She informed us that she had not been (legally) adopted at birth, and lived with her "parents" until she married at age 24. When she was 19, (they) took steps to adopt her legally.

Does she have a legal right to any portion of our estate, which is considerable? I would feel more comfortable amending our will, but my husband does not feel it is necessary.



A The general rule is that an adopted child cannot inherit from the natural parents. Your child, however, could inherit if she lived with you at any time as parent or child. Your child could also inherit if you were married to or living with the natural father at the time she was conceived and he died before she was born. Additionally, she could inherit if adopted by the spouse of one of her natural parents.

It does not appear from your letter that any of these exceptions exist. But I am concerned by your comment that you would feel more comfortable if your will were changed. I would suggest that you contact the attorney who drafted your will and inform him of these developments. This would be particularly advisable since you mention that you and your husband's estates are considerable.

Q I carry the maximum automobile liability insurance. I also have this expensive coverage on my 18-year-old son who lives with me. My son has no assets. Although he's an adult, the insurance company insisted that I be listed on his car as co-registered owner. When is a parent free of responsibility for what their children do?


Huntington Beach

A As you know, by definition, a minor is a person under 18 years of age. Parents are liable for a minor child's actions arising from his or her driving when they have signed the minor's application for a driver's license or have permitted the minor to drive.

Parents can still be liable for their adult children if the parents are the owners of the vehicle being driven. Generally, owner means the registered owner, although liability has been extended to those parents who actually own the vehicle but register it in someone else's name to avoid liability.

You do not mention in your letter who actually owns the car. It would seem, however, that as long as you appear as a registered owner, you could be responsible for any liability arising from your son driving the car.

Q Last week, I received my second jury summons in 18 months and my third within the past 5 years. I have numerous friends who are either registered voters or holders of valid California driver's licenses who have never been called to serve on a jury. I do not feel that it is fair nor necessarily in the best interest of the jury process that I be repeatedly summoned when others are willing and able to serve but have not been called.

Wouldn't the system be more equitable if the names of those citizens who have previously performed their jury service be placed into a separate pool until everyone who has served has been summoned at least once? Those who want to remain in the pool could request that their names not be dropped.


Newport Beach

A You do not mention whether you were summoned as a juror for a state or federal court. I also assume that you are referring to your experience in the state or county courts.

I contacted Alan Slater, jury commissioner of Orange County. He agreed with your position but informed me that state law provides that a person may be summoned to jury duty once a year. Realizing that some people, such as you, were being summoned more frequently than others, he said: "In an attempt to extend the opportunity to serve on jury duty to all citizens of Orange County, we purge the names of those persons summoned for a 3-year period following service. However, the system is not foolproof because of differences between the Department of Motor Vehicles list and Voters' Source list."

Slater did offer to examine the circumstances leading to your second summons in 18 months should you wish to contact him at the Orange County Superior Court in Santa Ana.

Got a question for Judge Nomoto? Write to: Ask the Judge, Orange County Life, The Times, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, Calif. 92626. Questions of broadest interest will be answered in her column.

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