Gregory Bock, Jr. was born two months after his mother married Gregory Bock, Sr. However, Gregory Jr. was the result of his mother’s previous relationship with Douglas Castellano. Gregory Sr. and Castellano both knew that Castellano was the biological father; however, the birth certificate identified Gregory Sr. as the father.

When Gregory Jr. was approximately 3 years old, his mother and Gregory Sr. separated. They divorced when Gregory Jr. was 6, and Gregory Jr. only saw Gregory Sr. for brief, infrequent visits thereafter.

When Gregory Jr. was thirty years old, he learned that Castellano was his biological father. They began a casual relationship, but never formed a close “parental” relationship.

In 2016, Castellano was murdered. He had no Last Will and Testament, and was not survived by a spouse or children, other than Gregory Jr.  A DNA test proved that Gregory Jr. was Castellano’s biological child.

After Castellano’s siblings (who would inherit if Castellano died without children) sought letters of administration of the estate, Gregory Jr. filed a caveat, claiming that, as the sole descendant, he was entitled to the intestate estate. The Chancery Court agreed, and ruled that Gregory Jr. was entitled to inherit based on New Jersey’s laws of intestacy.

On appeal, Castellano’s siblings claimed that the judge had failed to properly consider the New Jersey parentage statute,  which directs that, when a child’s biological mother is married at the time of the child’s birth, the husband is presumed to be the biological father.

The Appellate Division rejected the siblings’ claims. The court noted that the siblings’ argument “pits the [parentage] statute … against the intestacy laws, which declare—without limitation or qualification—that a child inherits to the exclusion of the decedent’s siblings.” Although the parentage statute creates a “strong rebuttable presumption” that the mother’s husband is the child’s father, that presumption was rebutted because the DNA test revealed that Castellano was Gregory Jr.’s father.

Nevertheless, the siblings claimed that an “equitable adoption” occurred because the birth certificate, and the couple’s later divorce judgment, identified Gregory Sr. as the father. While recognizing that the concept of “equitable adoption” might apply in compelling circumstances, such as where an adoptive parent dies two days before a final adoption hearing, the instant case did not present such compelling circumstances. Moreover, the siblings were attempting to use the equitable adoption remedy in a way it had never been used: not to enforce the child’s right to inherit, but to destroy it.

As the appeals court concluded,

[The siblings’] arguments at best embody only the contention that because they had a fuller relationship with their brother than did Gregory, Jr., they and not Gregory, Jr. should inherit. The Legislature thought otherwise, allowing for no exception to the priorities of inheritance that favor Gregory, Jr. Had the decedent intended to provide for his siblings over Gregory, Jr., he could have executed a will that so provided.

The Chancery Court ruling was affirmed.

The case is attached here – In the Matter of the Estate of Douglas Castellano

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