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IN RE ESTATE OF HUMPHREY

May 24, 1966

In re ESTATE of William Fleming HUMPHREY, deceased


The opinion of the court was delivered by: HOLTZOFF

 The question presented by this case is whether under the law of the District of Columbia a stepchild is entitled to inherit from a stepparent who died intestate. We answer this question in the affirmative.

 William F. Humphrey, a domiciliary of the District of Columbia, died intestate. His wife, Hattie E. Humphrey, had predeceased him. William F. Humphrey left no natural or adopted children surviving him. However, he left a stepdaughter, Maxine L. Tolson, who was a natural daughter of Hattie Humphrey by a prior marriage. Unfortunately the record is very scanty. It was stated in open court at the argument, however, and was not disputed that at the time of her mother's marriage to the deceased, Maxine Tolson was eight years old and was brought up and grew up in her stepfather's and mother's household.

 The deceased was also survived by two brothers and by several nephews and nieces, who are the children of the decedent's deceased brothers. One of the nephews, Samuel Humphrey, filed a petition for letters of administration and was appointed administrator of his uncle's estate. The stepdaughter of the deceased, Maxine Tolson, then filed a cross-petition seeking a revocation of the letters of administration theretofore granted to Samuel Humphrey, and asking that she be appointed as administratrix. The administrator moves to dismiss the cross-petition.

 The matter now comes before this Court on the motion to dismiss the cross-petition. Its determination depends on the question whether the stepdaughter is entitled to inherit in preference to the brothers and nephews and nieces of the deceased. The question is not free from doubt. There is a dearth of authorities on this point. There are no reported decisions in this jurisdiction discussing the effect of the local legislation on this subject.

 The following are the pertinent provisions of the District of Columbia Code, 1961 Edition, Supp. V (1966):

 
Section 19-306. When the intestate leaves children and no other descendants, the surplus is divided equally among them.
 
Section 19-315. There is no distinction between the kindred of the whole- and the half-blood.

 The problem becomes whether the abolition of the common law distinction between kindred of the whole- and half-blood enables stepchildren to inherit from stepparents. It will be observed that the statute is phrased in broad, sweeping terms and contains no limitations. It applies wherever a question arises as to relative rights of persons of the whole-blood or half-blood. The abrogation of any legal distinction between kindred of the whole and half-blood, may arise in situations of various types. One that is analogous to that presented in the instant case is where the deceased marries a widow or divorcee with a child or children; a child or children are later born of the second marriage; the wife dies first; and then the deceased dies intestate. At common law only the children of the second marriage would have inherited from the father. The statute, however, provides that "There is no distinction between the kindred of the whole- and the half-blood." It would seem to follow that no distinction may be drawn between the children of the mother's two marriages, because the two groups of children are kindred of the half-blood to each other. The conclusion would seem to follow that they inherit equally from their mother's second husband. No reason is discernible why a different conclusion should be reached if the deceased leaves only a stepchild and had no natural child of his own.

 It is argued, however, that a stepchild is not either of the whole-blood or of the half-blood of the stepparent and that the statutory provision abolishing the distinction between kindred of the whole and the half-blood, should be limited to collateral kindred. It is urged that consequently, for example, half brothers and half sisters may inherit equally with full-blood brothers and sisters from one of themselves but not from the stepparent, since the stepchildren are not of either the whole or half-blood of the stepparent, but of no blood at all as concerns the stepfather. The statute, however, contains no such limitation. It provides that there should be no distinction between kindred of the whole or half-blood. The provision is not restricted to particular types of situations. It governs whenever there arises a problem of reciprocal rights as between persons of the whole and half blood. Wherever such a situation is confronted irrespective of its form, no distinction may be made.

 To confine the statute to collaterals when they inherit from each other would be too narrow a view. It would disregard the broad scope of the phraseology of the statute. It would put a more restricted interpretation on the Act of Congress than its phraseology warrants. There is no suggestion in the statute that it should be limited to distribution of decedent's property among his collateral kindred.

 Counsel for the administrator relies principally on a decision of the Supreme Court of the State of Washington, In the matter of Smith's Estate, 49 Wash.2d 229, 299 P.2d 550. That case, however, is distinguishable because it construes and applies a statute that is substantially different from the broad District of Columbia Act. The Washington statute is a limited recognition of kindred of the half-blood only in certain instances, and not for all purposes, as is true of the District of Columbia enactment.


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