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In re Estate of Gallegos.

2021 COA 115. No. 20CA0721.  Probate—Intestate Succession—Adoption—Termination of Parent-Child Relationship.

August 26, 2021

Gallegos died in December 2016 without a spouse or a will, and his two biological daughters, Vialpando and Finan, petitioned for a share of his estate. Vialpando was born in 1990 and was adopted by her maternal grandparents in 1991, but she maintained a relationship with Gallegos throughout his life and he named her as the beneficiary of his savings and retirement accounts. Finan was born in 1989, had no relationship with Gallegos, and only learned that Gallegos was her father after he died. The district court ruled that both are heirs to the estate.

On appeal, Finan and Corpus A. Gallegos Ranches, LLLP (collectively, appellants) argued that the district court erred by applying an amended Colorado Probate Code provision in determining that Vialpando was Gallego’s heir because the provision was passed nearly 20 years after her adoption was finalized. Generally, under the Children’s Code, a final decree of adoption divests the biological parents of all legal rights and obligations for the child. However, in 2010, the General Assembly amended Colorado’s intestate succession laws to include a provision allowing children who are adopted by relatives of either genetic parent to inherit from a genetic parent who dies without a will. Because the probate statute is both more specific and more recent, it prevails over the conflicting provisions of the Children’s Code. Accordingly, the court appropriately applied the Probate Code provision in effect when Gallegos died in determining that Vialpando was Gallegos’s legal heir.

Appellants argued alternatively that upon Vialpando’s adoption, Gallegos had a vested right to be free from any future legal obligations that would result from being her biological father, even after his death. However, Vialpando’s adoption was not impaired or otherwise affected by the 2010 amendment to the Probate Code, and throughout his life, Gallegos remained free of any legal rights or obligations with respect to Vialpando. Further, appellants did not cite any cases supporting their contention that Gallegos’s right to be free of parental obligations also applied to intestate succession by his heirs.

The judgment was affirmed.

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

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