Sarah Baguley Managing Associate, Private Client
‘Death in Paradise’: debunking adoption and inheritance rights myths in Christmas special
Many viewers will have tuned in to watch the BBC’s Death in Paradise Christmas special. During the episode, a wealthy shipping magnate was found dead at a Christmas party, and as the story progressed, the culprit was confronted and the mystery behind the victim’s death was revealed.
In her youth, Natasha Carlton had seduced a man named Philip Carlton to fall in love with her, after learning that he was about to inherit a fortune from his late father. Unbeknown to Philip, Natasha had devised a plan to murder him so that her cousin Andrew, whom she had fallen in love with, could assume his identity and take over his wealth. The imposter (Andrew) eventually committed suicide as he could no longer live with the guilt, but not before sending a Christmas card to Mr Carlton’s biological son, Colin Babcock, who Natasha had given up for adoption after Mr Carlton’s death.
At the end of the episode, DI Neville Parker informs Colin that as he is the only surviving blood relative, he is the only surviving heir - which means he will now inherit his birth father’s billionaire estate.
Confusion between fiction and reality
In recent years, it has become increasingly clear that media depictions of legal proceedings can create unrealistic expectations for the likely outcome of a legal matter. Viewers frequently overlook the fact that television dramas are fictional, and thus do not accurately represent reality. As a result, when individuals are faced with a legal problem of their own, they frequently make incorrect assumptions about how the law will be applied to their case.
Although Death in Paradise is set in a fictional tropical destination, due to the programme's audience, the storyline is used as an example of what would happen if the same events were to occur in the UK.
If a child is to be placed for adoption, consent is required from every person with parental responsibility for the child. When parents are married, both the mother and father share parental responsibility for their child. In the case of unmarried parents, the father must acquire parental responsibility. This can be acquired in a variety of ways, such as being registered on the birth certificate as the child’s father.
Thus, considering the above, at the time of placing Colin Babcock for adoption, Mrs Carlton would have been the only person alive with parental responsibility to consent to the adoption.
Inheritance rights of adopted children
Adopted children are treated legally as the child of their adoptive parents, and not the child of any other person. This means that if their adoptive parent dies without leaving a Will, the adopted child has the same right to a share of their estate as a biological child, under the intestacy rules. If there is a Will but the adopted child is not mentioned in it, the child may have a right to bring a claim against their estate.
As a general rule, adoption severs the legal relationship between the adopted child and the biological parents. This means that if a biological parent dies without leaving a Will, the adopted child will not be entitled to a share of the estate under the intestacy rules. In addition, the child will be unable to bring a claim against the estate. However, there is an exception to this rule. If the child is adopted after their biological parent has died, the adopted child is entitled to a share of their biological parent’s estate.
Death in Paradise
Colin Babcock fell within this exception, as his father had died before he was placed for adoption. As a result, he was legally entitled to his late father’s billionaire estate. However, it is important to highlight that the outcome of the case was fact-specific. If Philip Carlton was murdered after Colin’s adoption, the legal relationship between them would have been severed, and Colin would not have been entitled to Philip’s estate, whether he died with a Will (testate) or without a Will (intestate).
Seeking legal advice
This article highlights the potential dangers of relying on the law as depicted in fictional TV dramas, as each case has its own set of facts. As a result, it is important to seek advice from a reliable and reputable source. At Ince, our experts can advise and support you regarding your inheritance rights in the wider context of your family relationships. If you require assistance on any of the issues raised above, please get in touch with a member of our Private Client or Family teams.