Actor Troy Donahue died in 2001. On August 6, 2015, the California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District (Los Angeles) held that Janene Curtis, the biological daughter of actor Troy Donahue, who was adopted at birth and thus was not entitled to inherit by intestacy, nevertheless is a beneficiary entitled to recovery pursuant to the doctrine of equitable estoppel. In other words, equitable estoppel conferred upon Ms. Curtis legal beneficiary status whereas otherwise she had no legal right to inherit. You can read the Court’s decision at the following link, https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=14120595921206700250&hl=en&as_sdt=6,47
In relevant part, the Court held that the separate legal doctrine of equitable estoppel conferred upon Ms. Curtis beneficiary status where the court appointed administrator of Mr. Donahue’s estate treated and communicated to Ms. Curtis as a beneficiary, Ms. Curtis relied upon the actions of the executor to her detriment, and the executor either knew that Ms. Curtis wasn’t an intestate beneficiary or was negligent in failing to know that Ms. Curtis wasn’t an intestate beneficiary.
This case is important because the Court applies the equitable estoppel doctrine in an inheritance case and cites other cases similarly holding. Although currently the decision is unpublished (the Court should change it to “published”), meaning that it cannot be cited as decisive legal authority in other cases, the case nevertheless is or might be relevant in other cases because it cites other legal authorities and provides a roadmap for the argument. Equitable estoppel can be another tool in estate, trust, conservatorship and elder abuse litigation cases.