March 13, 2008 -- ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) - A woman born out of wedlock to a directdescendant of the family that struck it rich marketing Jell-O morethan a century ago has been denied what she considers her justdesserts.
The Court of Appeals, New York's highest court, ruled Thursdaythat Elizabeth McNabb of Longview, Wash., cannot share in themultimillion-dollar estate of her late mother, Barbara WoodwardPiel.
Piel's grandfather, Orator Francis Woodward, bought the Jell-Otrademark in 1899 from inventor Pearle Bixby Wait and, within adecade, turned it into a million-dollar business. Thus was born aubiquitous 20th-century American dessert, a wobbly standby atchurch potlucks, school cafeterias and summer camps.
Piel became pregnant in 1955 after a liaison with a married manand put the child - later named Elizabeth McNabb - up for adoptionin Oregon. She later married and had two other daughters.
At age 19, McNabb embarked on a long quest to find her birthmother. She finally traced her birth certificate through a courtorder in 1988 and learned about her family history during afour-day visit with Piel in rural Genesee County near Rochester.
After Piel's death in 2003, McNabb was told two trustsestablished in 1926 and 1963 barred her from sharing in the familyfortune. A county surrogate judge decided in December 2005 that, asan "adopted-out" child, McNabb was not a descendant or child ofPiel under the terms of the trust.
An appellate court in Rochester reversed that decision a yearago, effectively awarding McNabb a one-third share. It determinedthe trusts predated amendments to New York law dictating that anadopted child could not inherit from a biological parent unless itwas clear the parent planned to include the child amongdescendants.
The appeals court in Albany disagreed, saying there's noevidence in the legislative history, even before the amendments,indicating that a child put up for adoption should share in aninheritance.
The Jell-O brand is now owned by Kraft Foods Inc.