Delaware Supreme Court rules heiress cannot adopt ex-husband to increase inheritance claim
Susan Gore and her siblings, heirs to the founders of W.L. Gore & Associates, Inc., have fought for years over the division of 26,500 shares in the $3-billion-a-year company. The siblings are unable to agree on how their late parents, Wilbert L. and Genevieve (Vieve) Gore, intended to divide their fortune.
Before her mother's death in 2005, Susan Gore worried that her children would inherit fewer shares of the family fortune than her siblings' children because she and her ex-husband only had three children, while each of her four siblings had four children. In its opinion, the Delaware Supreme Court states that Susan Gore decided to "adopt her ex-husband," Jan Otto, in an attempt to "even out the potential distribution" from the trust. She secretly adopted Otto in a Wyoming court in 2003, when Otto was 65 years old.
Initially, Otto claimed that he only wanted his ex-wife to adopt him for the benefit of their children. However, he later changed his mind and decided he was going to keep the trust distributions for himself. In 2005, while Susan Gore considered whether she should "un-adopt" Otto, her mother Vieve died, which released the trust assets. The Gore family dispute then made its way to court.
The Delaware Supreme Court agreed with the lower court that Susan Gore's adoption of her ex-husband should not act to increase their family's share of the trust assets, in part because "the fact that Susan kept this adoption secret until Vieve died . . . evidences that Susan and the Otto grandchildren knew that they were acting to thwart Vieve's intentions."
The Gore family fortune was built largely through the sale of Gore-Tex waterproof fabric.