But a state appeals court has ordered the family to share — finding
Emily is still entitled to one-sixth of the trust funds her adopted dad
had left behind for his children.
Party goods magnate John Svenningsen died of cancer in 1997, just a year after he and Christine adopted Emily.
Christine Svenningsen, third from left, pictured with her family.
A mega-rich widow who gave up her adopted special-needs daughter after
eight years has lost her bid to also cut the girl out of her family’s
$250 million estate.
Christine Svenningsen had coldly contended her former daughter Emily —
whom she had adopted from China when she was less than 1 year old —
shouldn’t get a dime from her late husband’s estate because she has been
adopted by another family.
The money-hungry mom was joined in her bid to keep Emily away from her
family’s bounty by her five biological kids, the adopted girl’s former
The adoption agreement they signed guaranteed that “they would not
abandon Emily or transfer or have her readopted, and that they would
deem (Emily) a biological child.” It also gave her the right to inherit
John Svenningsen was true to his word — his will expressly provided
that any children they had adopted should be treated equally to their
five biological children.
But Svenningsen — who was the one who traveled to China for the adoption — eventually decided she didn’t want Emily anymore.
“Christine maintains that Emily was a difficult child and unable to bond with the family,” a probate court decision said.
“In December 2003, Svenningsen placed Emily at the Devereux Glenholme
School based upon a diagnosis of Reactive Attachment Disorder,” which
occurs when a person has severe problems relating to other people, Judge
Anthony Scarpino wrote.
“The staff at Devereux did not concur with the diagnosis,” Scarpino said.
Soon after Emily was enrolled, Svenningsen’s lawyers told school
administrators she wanted to give the girl up for adoption — news that
thrilled Devereux staffer Maryann Campbell, who often cared for Emily on
the weekends with her husband and felt “bonded” with her. Campbell and
her husband agreed to adopt Emily — but Svenningsen never mentioned to
them or the adoption agency that she had been named as a beneficiary in
John Svenningsen’s will.
They remained in the dark until 2007, when one of the lawyers for John
Svenningsen’s estate told them there was a trust that could help with
her medical expenses. When they tried to find out more, they were
stonewalled — and then found out through court filings that she would be
entitled to a share of her first adopted father’s estate at an
Svenningsen — who has made headlines by spending $33 million to buy
some islands in Long Island Sound — contended that since Emily was no
longer a family member, she shouldn’t be entitled to a share of the
In a Feb. 6 decision, the state Appellate Division disagreed, finding
Emily was John Svenningsen’s daughter and heir when he died. The court
ordered the family to provide Campbell and Cass with an accounting.
Scarpino’s decision said Emily has “thrived” with her new parents, who declined comment on Friday.
Svenningsen, who remarried in 2010, could not be reached, and her lawyers did not return calls.
on Feb. 16, 2013 at 7:38 AM