Trusts and Estates

Estate of Fusae Obata

Cite as A150284
Filed September 26, 2018
California Court of Appeal, First District

By Golnaz Yazdchi
Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP

Decedents Fusae Obata and Emi Obata died intestate in 2013, unmarried, and leaving no issue. In 1911, their father Tomejiro Obata had been adopted in Japan under the Japanese practice of yōshi-engumi. Tomejiro’s descendants from his biological parents claimed under the laws of intestate succession, arguing that Tomejiro’s adoption was not valid under California law because (1) it did not create a sufficient parent/child relationship between the adoptee and the adopting parents; (2) it did not terminate the parent/child relationship between the adoptee and the biological parents; (3) it did not require a judicial or neutral third party review process; and (4) it did not result in a permeant relationship – all of which are requirements for a valid adoption in California. The trial court found in favor of the Obata family (Tomejiro’s adoptive family) and ruled that California law recognized Tomejiro’s yōshi-engumi as a legal adoption under Probate Code sections 6450 and 6451. Thus, under California law, the adoption severed Tomejiro’s relationship with his natural parents, and Tomejiro’s biological descendants were not entitled to distribution from either estate. Tomejiro’s biological descendants appealed.

The Court of Appeal affirmed. The status of adoption is determined by the laws of the jurisdiction where the adoption occurred irrespective of whether those laws impose the same requirements as California law, whereas inheritance rights are determined under the law of a decedent’s domicile. Because the concept of yoshi, the primary purpose of which was to create an heir and typically involved adults, is recognized as a legal adoption under Japanese law, the trial court did not err in deeming Tomejiro’s relationship with his natural parents severed and applying California law for purposes of inheritance.

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