Multimillionaire widow ordered to give portion of $250m estate to adopted Chinese daughter she gave up after ten years
February 15, 2013
A wealthy widow who adopted a Chinese girl and then decided to give her up for re-adoption ten years later has been ordered by a court to give her a portion of her $250million estate.
In 1996, John and Christine Svenningsen of Westchester, New York, adopted a baby girl, who they named Emily Fuqui Svenningsen, to add to their brood of four biological children.
Right before the adoption was finalized, they had another biological child and husband John was diagnosed with cancer.
According to court documents, on May 6, 1996, the Svenningsens signed an adoption agreement stating they would not abandon Emily or 'transfer or have [her] re-adopted', and that she would be deemed 'a biological child'.
The agreement also stated that Emily had the right to inherit the estate of her adopted parents, who had established a pair of trusts for their children, as well as one meant solely for Emily, according to ABC.
In December 2004, seven years after her husband died from cancer, Mrs Svenningsen put Emily up for adoption and surrendered her to Spence-Chapin Services to Families and Children, an adoption agency in New York.
She said that Emily was a difficult child and was unable to bond with the family. But the adoptive family suggest that Christine may have wanted to terminate Emily's interest in her husband's estate.
On May 18, 2006, Maryann Campbell and her husband Fred Cass formally adopted Emily after first expressing interest when Mrs Svenningsen brought Emily to their boarding school catered for children with special needs.
Christine placed Emily at the Devereux Glenholme School based upon a diagnosis of reactive attachment disorder, though the staff at Devereux did not concur with that diagnosis, according to court documents, which also noted that Emily thrived with her new family.
The couple had no idea about the money legally owed to their newly adopted daughter from the trust, but eventually learned that John Svenningsen had arranged to provide for Emily’s educational and medical needs.
They were sent a letter by Christine’s lawyers stating that Emily’s trusts totaled $842,397.
When they later learned the estate was worth more than $250million, the couple sued on behalf of the Chinese girl.
Westchester County Surrogate’s Court said that John Svenningsen meant to provide for all of his children, both biological and adopted.
Mrs Svenningsen and her five biological children appealed, but last week the court ruled in Emily's favor.
'It cannot be overly emphasized that Christine’s unilateral surrender of Emily for adoption more than eight years after the decedent and Christine adopted her was not foreseeable at the time the will, and the trust documents were drafted and executed by the decedent,' Judge Leonard Austin wrote.
'John Svenningsen expressed an intention to include his adopted child in the absence of any reason to believe that his status as the parent of Emily would be terminated by her subsequent adoption many years after his death.'
Christine Svenningsen, who has since remarried and has spent about $33 million buying ten of the so-called Thimble Islands in the Long Island Sound, could not be reached for comment.
She married John G Chiarella, Jr, a landscaping entrepreneur who manages her islands, in July 2010.