A decision of New York’s Court of Appeals handed down on October 27,2005 and published in the October 28 issue of the New York Law Journal in Estate of Mildred B Murphy, Deceased 4 No. 137 resolved issues raised in an unusual situation where a birth mother outlived a son who had been adopted-out but was also named in her will as a beneficiary. The question was whether or not the bequests set out in the will lapsed or passed to his issue pursuant to New York’s anti-lapse statute (EPTL 3-3.3)

Mildred Murphy gave birth to her son Arthur in 1924. He was placed with Jim and Mae Manning and was eventually adopted by them after being renamed Clair Willard Manning. In 1998, he was specifically named as a beneficiary in Mildred Murphy’s will. He died in March 2001, leaving four children. Eleven months later, Mildred Murphy died.

New York’s anti-lapse statute provides that when a bequest is made to the issue or siblings of the testator who is predeceased by the beneficiary, the gift does not lapse but vests instead in the surviving issue of the beneficiary. This is in direct conflict with section 117(2) of the Domestic Relations Law which states that
“Except as hereinafter stated, after the making
of an order of adoption, adopted children and their
issue thereafter are strangers to any birth re-
latives for the purpose of the interpretation or
construction if a disposition in any instrument,
whether executed before or after the order of
adoption, which does not express a contrary in-
tention or does not expressly include the individual
by name or by some classification not based on
a parent-child relationship.”

Clair Mannings four children brought this action predicated upon the contention that when Mildred Murphy named their father in her will, she changed his status from “stranger” to “issue” for the purposes of the anti-lapse statute with respect to that gift. In reversing the decision of the Appellate Division, the Court of Appeals noted that
“under DRL 117(2)(a), adopted children and their issue are normally “strangers” to their birth relatives, and thus are excluded from class gifts. They are not “strangers” when the bequest is to a named adopted-out child. Accordingly, the court ruled in favor of the children of Clair Manning and found that the gift to them did not lapse. Even though their father had predeceased the testator, the children were found to be entitled to the benefits of the anti-lapse statute.