McKinney v. Richitelli
586 S.E.2d 258, 357 N.C. 483 (2003)

  • McKinney and Richitelli got married, had a child (Michael) and then got a divorce.
    • Richitelli was ordered to pay child support, which he didn’t.
    • Richitelli had no contact with Michael for over 15 years.
      • Most of that time Richitelli was in prison or a drug addict.
  • Michael was dying of cancer when Richitelli surfaced and contacted him.
    • They spoke several times over the next year and Richitelli sent him some money.
  • Michael died, leaving a potential windfall in medical malpractice and wrongful death lawsuits.
  • McKinney filed a declaratory judgment complaint against Richitelli saying that if Michael’s estate got any money from the lawsuits, none of it would go to Richitelli.
  • The Trial Court found for McKinney, Richitelli appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that under North Carolina State law, Richitelli’s willful abandonment resulted in the loss of his right to intestate succession in any part of Michael’s estate, including settlement of the lawsuit.
  • The Appellate Court reversed, McKinney appealed.
    • The Appellate Court found that Richitelli had resumed his relationship with Michael and was thus exempted from the willful abandonment statute.
  • The North Carolina Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Court and barred Richitelli from collecting any money as Michael’s heir.
    • The North Carolina Supreme Court found that the exemption for resuming care is only applicable if the child is still a minor.
      • Richitelli argued that the duty to provide financial support ends at the age of majority, but the duty to care never ends.
      • However, the Court found it would be inequitable to allow Richitelli to inherit when he failed to provide maintenance during the time Michael needed it.
  • The basic rule is that if you abandon a child, you must resume the relationship while the child is still a minor. Otherwise you are forever barred from inheriting under intestate succession.
    • If the parent is really sincere about reconciliation, and the non-minor child is really forgiving, the child can always provide for the parent in their will.