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An Unexpected Relative

Last Updated on Sep 18, 2023

In 2018, Loch David Crane, a California resident, died without having made a will. His reasons for not taking care of this important financial chore are unknown, but perhaps it was because he had no surviving spouse, children, siblings, or grandparents. Under California law, that meant his heirs were the descendants of his grandparents. The only such descendant from the paternal grandparents was Shannon Wehsener, a cousin.

Shannon was named the administrator of the Crane estate. On January 8, 2020, she filed her report and petition for distribution of the estate with the probate court. On February 21, 2020, Judy Scherber filed an objection, claiming that she also was an heir.

Mr. Crane’s mother had an adopted brother, Charles Bloodgood. Judy’s mother had abandoned her as an infant. When she was two years old, Judy’s father asked Charles and his wife to babysit her—then never returned to pick her up. Charles and his wife raised Judy as their own daughter, but they never formally adopted her. When the family moved to Indiana, Charles said he was Judy’s father when she was enrolled in school. In his will, Charles called Judy his daughter.

In his entire life Mr. Crane never met either Judy or Charles, as neither of them had been to California. Judy only learned about her potential inheritance when she was contacted by a company that locates missing heirs for a share of their inheritances.

The legal question is whether Judy is a descendant of Crane’s grandparents. Had the adoption formalities been attended to, the answer would be yes in all jurisdictions. But under Indiana law, where Judy lives, the answer is no.

California has a more expansive, less formal rule, under which Charles is presumed to be Judy’s “natural parent” unless clear and convincing evidence to the contrary is presented. No such evidence was offered, and Judy’s attorneys persuaded the California courts that the California rule should apply. Judy gets half of the estate.

The Court’s decision does not reveal how large the Crane estate was—but it was at least large enough to support four years of legal proceedings.


(June 2023)

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