Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Never adopted children to inherit

Billy Tipton's "sons" inherit

In one of the most unusual probate cases ever, a Spokane County judge has ruled that the three illegally adopted sons of Kitty Oakes and Billy Tipton can inherit equal shares of Oakes' $300,000 estate. Oakes was 73 when she died last year. She had cancer and dementia. The estate proceeds come from the sale of her home.

Kitty Oakes was a former stripper known as Irish Venus who lived as the wife of bandleader Billy Tipton. They separated in 1980. When Tipton died in 1989, paramedics discovered that the person who’d lived as a man was actually a woman.
Obviously the three sons were shocked. Two of the sons changed their names.

A little bit of background

In 1933, Tipton began dressing as a man, which allowed him to blend with the other members of the jazz bands with whom Tipton played in small Oklahoma bars. Tipton took his father's nickname, Billy, and began living consistently as male. Living as a man made it possible to continue a career in jazz, where opportunities for women were limited. At first, Tipton only presented as male in performance, but by 1940 he was living full-time as a man. Tipton gradually gained success and recognition as a musician

The cover of the Billy Tipton Trio album

For seven years, Tipton lived with Betty Cox. Tipton kept the secret of his biological sex by telling Betty that he had been in a serious car accident which required him to bind his chest to protect broken ribs, and which had badly damaged his genitals. This became the story he would also tell subsequent women with whom he was involved. Betty remembered him as "the most fantastic love of my life."

After Betty ended their relationship, he quickly became involved with Maryann Catanach. She did not know that Tipton was biologically female. Two of Tipton's female cousins were the only persons privy to both sides of Tipton's life, and Tipton kept in contact with them for years.

In 1960, he ended a relationship with a Maryann to “marry” stripper Kitty Kelly (later known as Kitty Oakes), who was known professionally as "The Irish Venus." Tipton was never legally married, but several women had drivers' licenses identifying them as Mrs. Tipton. Kitty said that they never had sex but had an otherwise normal life. They were involved with their local PTA and with the Boy Scouts. They adopted three sons, John, Scott, and William. Although Kitty denied having any knowledge of Tipton’s ruse, John and Scott did not believe her.

Tipton finished his life living in poverty in a mobile home park. It was while paramedics were trying to save Tipton's life that his watching son, William, learned for the first time that his father was biologically female, a secret which the coroner soon confirmed. Tipton was pronounced dead at Valley General Hospital, and Kitty arranged for his body to be cremated in an attempt to keep Tipton's secret.

The ruling invokes “equitable adoption.” Not something generally recognized in Washington Law. In closing arguments, Lynn St. Louis, attorney for the personal representative of Oakes' estate, told Price there are "compelling facts" to allow the three sons to inherit under the doctrine.

The legal doctrines of equitable adoption and adoption by estoppels typically arise when a person who took care of a minor child for many years dies. The decedent may have died without a Will and the child presents a claim to all or part of the estate based on one of these doctrines. If the decedent died with a Will and the child was not mentioned in the Will, the child may still present a claim for a portion of the parent's estate on the basis of being an omitted or pretermitted child.

Washington law bars illegally adopted children not named in a will from inheriting out of fears that they'd be able to collect inheritances from two sets of parents.
But the case of Jonathan Clark, Scott L. Miller and William A. Tipton is unique, and the sons should not be penalized for their parents' deceit, St. Louis said.
Oakes and Tipton "brought into their home three boys. The natural mothers apparently relinquished custody, yet none are legally adopted. None of these boys were Kitty's biological child.

And the Tiptons were a family... Billy was dad; Kitty, mom," St. Louis said.
A photograph Oakes kept at her bedside as her health declined at a nursing home was shown to Price and displayed on the witness stand during this week's testimony.
It shows a happy, 1970s-era South Hill family; Kitty, the scout den mother; Billy, the smiling father, the teenage boys and little William, dressed in his Cub Scout uniform, who had just won a national art award.

For a while, the photo and reality coincided, at least in part.

In their testimony, the sons recalled how they joined the Tipton family as infants in the 1960s and were later told they were adopted. They recalled big Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations, Scouting, church on Easter and camping trips to Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon.

In his ruling from the bench, Price agreed.

"Until trial, the court didn't grasp the incredible life ramifications the Tipton children had dealt with... they should know that they did nothing wrong here. They just tried as best they could to live with the hand they were dealt," Price said. The three men will inherit equal shares of the estate, minus appropriate lawyers' fees.

If their claims had not held up, a scattered clan of paternal uncles and cousins in the Midwest and South stood to inherit Oakes' estate as "second tier" heirs.

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