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Daily News, Op-Ed

“Legal Twilight Zone”

John Goodman and his daughter Heather Hutchins

The thought of somehow making your girlfriend into your “daughter” is a little bit creepy. Even more so when you are a mere six years older than her.

However, that is exactly what happened when the awesomely named, albeit scummy, John Goodman, 48, adopted his longtime partner Heather Hutchins, 42. Critics of the move say that this is a ruse intended to protect Goodman’s assets, while Goodman himself says that he only seeks to ensure that his children, both still minors, remain protected.

Both are true. Goodman is clearly trying to protect his children by making sure that his money is unreachable by creditors and kept safe should he become unavailable to care for the kids.

Which leads to the question, how did this actually come up in the first place? And, why is Goodman a scum bag?

Glad you asked.

You see, John Goodman was involved in a hit and run accident while he was highly intoxicated. This accident caused the death of Scott Patrick Wilson, 23.

Scott Wilson’s family is currently suing Goodman for the wrongful death of their child. This type of suit, especially when it is brought against someone wealthy, usually yields large awards because the jury wants to provide a sense of justice and vindication to the bereaved, and rightfully so. In this instance Goodman’s actions caused the death of someone who had yet to have a chance at life, the least he can give up in return is some money.

Goodman is also facing an upcoming trial on the charges of Vehicular Homicide, DUI Manslaughter (a lesser included offense), and leaving the scene of a crime. That puts Goodman at risk of spending the next 30 or so years in prison.

He would be quite unavailable to his children, and quite unable to enjoy his money (though he would be able to buy lots of cigaretts and junk food at the commissary).

It is no wonder, then that he would want to safeguard his children’s future.

The adoption comes into play because John Goodman had setup a trust for his kids. However, given the way some trusts work, his children would need to have reached the age of majority (18 years old) in order for the trust to vest and become irrevocable.

At its most basic, a trust needs three things in order to protect money or property: 1) A trustee, 2) beneficiaries, 3) funding. The trustee is the person that controls the trust, and no doubt that the trustee is Goodman. The beneficiaries are his kids. The funding part is obvious, it’s the money.

Why wasn’t all of that good enough?

Because, as I said before, sometimes children need to reach the age of majority. This is because trust documents are usually written in a way that provides for the death of a child or the inclusion of an accidental child or something of the sort.

In other words, the trust is written so as not to acknowledge that the children exist until they are a certain age. Then, as each child passes that age they become entitled to their share of the trust.

Thus, this is a gambit to ensure that the trust becomes active, thereby shielding Goodman’s assets from the Wilson family.

As of now this move is legal, but it is going to be challenged by the Wilson’s attorneys as against the legislature’s intent in creative the adoption laws.

As a lawyer it is hard to find fault with the legal side of this. You do what you must to defend your client and his or her interests. Here, Goodman’s lawyers took a creative approach to that, though it does seem that the move will eventually be undone. On a. Personal level, though, we can say that just because Goodman’s lawyers could do that, they probably shouldn’t.

The Wilson family is entitled to a little shred of justice for their loss. Granted that Goodman is convicted or accepts a plea bargain he will be spending a decent amount of time away, and hopefully that will provide some solace. And given the look of things, John Goodman was a very wealthy man, and he has enough to pay what will likely be a steep judgment against him and ensure that his children have a good future.

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About E.C.

Corporate and regulatory attorney. Also experienced in advocacy for the mentally disabled and minor litigation matters. Not currently practicing, but maintaining the blog to keep my research and writing skills sharp. Splitting time between Connecticut and Massachusetts.

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