Columbia contends that the alleged half-sisters have no interest in the estate, and that it has escheated to the District.
Florida being the situs of the alleged adoption in this case, the law of that state on equitable adoption has significance. The leading Florida case bearing thereon is Sheffield v. Barry, 153 Fla. 144, 14 So.2d 417, Supreme Court of Florida, 1943. Involved there was a contract between the child's natural mother and the foster parents whereby the foster parents would adopt the child as their own. The child was treated and considered by her adoptive parents throughout their lives as their daughter and was by them represented to the community as being their lawfully adopted daughter. Similarly the adoptive parents represented to the child that she bore such a status. It was not until both adoptive parents were dead that the child learned that no proceedings had ever been instituted to effect the adoption. She sued for specific performance of the adoption contract to entitle her to participate in the intestate estate of her foster father. Under these circumstances, the court recognized the concept of an equitable adoption so as to allow the adoptee to inherit as a natural child.
It is clear from the case cited that Florida recognizes an equitable adoption. Had Edward R. McConnell, the decedent here, survived his foster parents and proved an adoption contract between his natural mother and his adoptive parents (Arthur and Mamie McConnell), he could have successfully claimed a portion of any intestate estate left by such adoptive parent or parents, even though formal adoption was never consummated.
However, the situation presented in the instant case is different. The question here is whether the natural children of the foster parent may inherit from the adoptee (Edward R. McConnell) where the statutory proceedings of formal adoption have never been met. In order for Mrs. Prather and Mrs. Jansen to be able to inherit from the adoptee (Edward R. McConnell), it would seem that their natural parent, Mamie McConnell, through whom they claim, must have been able to inherit from the adoptee. The Florida Supreme Court in Sheffield v. Barry made it clear that what it was doing was not establishing an adoption, but, under the maxim "equity regards that as done which ought to have been done," was enforcing the adoption contract to secure for the adopted child a share in the estate of an intestate foster parent.
The case of Heien v. Crabtree, 369 S.W.2d 28, Supreme Court of Texas, 1963, is factually similar to the case at bar. There Frank and Rosa Frei, husband and wife, had allegedly agreed with the mother of an illegitimate boy that they would legally adopt him. Such an adoption did not take place but the child made his home with Mr. and Mrs. Frei until he was 22 years of age, and was known as R. F. Frei. He died unmarried and intestate, Mr. and Mrs. Frei having predeceased him. The estate of R. F. Frei was claimed by the heirs of Mr. and Mrs. Frei. In affirming a judgment that such heirs take nothing, the Supreme Court of Texas said in part:
Here, the heirs of Frank and Rosa Frei are asserting a right of intestate succession to the estate of R. F. Frei. It was their burden to allege a legal right of succession. They could discharge that burden by alleging and proving that R. F. Frei was either a natural child or an adopted child of Frank and Rosa Frei through whom they claim. Admittedly he was neither.