W.Va. Supreme Court Rules Against Child in Inheritance Case

May 13, 2018

West Virginia's Supreme Court says children cannot inherit from a biological parent's estate if that parent has no will and had their rights terminated.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports the justices ruled 3-2 Friday to uphold a decision by a Mercer County circuit judge to deny an inheritance for the daughter of a man who died in 2011. That man had no will and his parental rights were terminated for alleged sexual abuse against her. He died before the criminal case was resolved.

The majority opinion said the state's inheritance laws do not provide clear support or define children's rights in such cases.

The opinion said the Legislature must make any change in the law and it can't come through legal precedent.

The man's parental rights were terminated in Mercer County Circuit Court in 2008 amid an investigation by Child Protective Services. He and his wife divorced that year.

"While we are sympathetic to (the daughter's) circumstances, the decision of this court must be guided by the law and not our sympathies," Justice Robin Davis wrote in the majority opinion.

Chief Justice Margaret Workman and Justice Menis Ketchum dissented.

Workman said the court's ruling was "wrong, wrong, wrong, both from a legal and human perspective."

She said the lack of a clear definition in state law does not negate the fact that the girl is the man's "child, descendant, and sole beneficiary under West Virginia Code."

"Even though his parental rights were legally terminated, her rights as his child and decedent remain intact," she said.

Workman wrote the justices in the majority effectively established a new law extinguishing the right of a child to inherit from a parent without a will and whose rights had been terminated.