Amended March 7, 2017 Marcia E. Roll v. Russell L. Newhall ( 2016 )


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  •                IN THE SUPREME COURT OF IOWA
                                   No. 15–1838
    
                            Filed December 23, 2016
    
                            Amended March 7, 2017
    
    
    MARCIA E. ROLL,
    
          Appellant,
    
    vs.
    
    RUSSELL L. NEWHALL,
    
          Appellee.
    
    
    
          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Butler County, James M.
    
    Drew, Judge.
    
    
    
          A will beneficiary appeals a district court ruling declaring that
    
    another beneficiary’s adoption out of his biological family after the
    
    execution of a will did not preclude him from inheriting under a provision
    
    of the will that identified him by name and class designation.
    AFFIRMED.
    
    
    
          Thomas D. Hanson and Melissa A. Schilling of Dickinson,
    
    Mackaman, Tyler & Hagen, P.C., Des Moines, for appellant.
    
    
    
          Paul C. Peglow and Bethany J. Currie of Peglow, O’Hare & See,
    
    P.L.C., Marshalltown, for appellee.
                                          2
    
    HECHT, Justice.
    
            A testator executed a last will and testament devising property to
    
    her two adult children—a son and a daughter.            After the will was
    
    executed but before the testator’s death, the son was adopted by a
    
    paternal aunt.      The testator’s daughter filed this action after the
    
    testator’s death seeking a declaratory judgment establishing that the
    
    adoption terminated her sibling’s ability to inherit under the will.     On
    
    cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court concluded the
    
    son’s adoption out of his biological family did not preclude him from
    
    taking under his biological mother’s will, which identified him as a
    
    beneficiary both by name and by membership in a class. We affirm.
    
            I. Background Facts and Proceedings.
    
            Russell Newhall and Marcia Roll are the biological adult children of
    
    Marrian Newhall. Marrian executed her last will and testament in 2006.
    
    Article II of the will provided,
    
            In the event my husband does not survive me, all the rest,
            residue and remainder of my property I give to my children,
            RUSSELL L. NEWHALL and MARCIA E. ROLL, share and
            share alike. All references to child or children shall include
            all children born to or adopted by me after the date this Will
            is executed.
    
    The will also named Russell and Marcia as executors to serve without
    
    bond.
            In 2007, Russell was adopted as an adult by his paternal aunt,
    
    Janice Anway, who wished to avoid Iowa’s inheritance tax on her estate.
                                                3
    
           Marrian passed away in August 2014. She was not survived by a
    
    spouse.       As a consequence of the adoption, Russell was Marrian’s
    
    nephew under the law and her biological son at the time of her death. 1
    
           Marcia, the executor and a beneficiary of the residue of Marrian’s
    
    estate, filed this action seeking a declaration that Russell’s adoption out
    
    of the family precluded him from inheriting under the provisions of
    
    Marrian’s will. 2      Marcia’s petition alleged entitlement to such relief
    
    because the will clearly expressed Marrian’s intent to leave the property
    
    to her “children,” and as a consequence of the adoption Russell was not
    
    Marrian’s child under the applicable law at the time of her death.
    
    Russell filed an answer asserting his adoption by Anway did not change
    
    his relationship with his parents and that Marrian’s intent for him to
    
    inherit and serve as coexecutor is clearly expressed in her last will and
    
    testament.
    
           In August 2015, Marcia and Russell filed cross-motions for
    
    summary judgment.            The district court granted summary judgment,
    
    concluding Russell could inherit under the terms of Marrian’s will
    
    despite the adoption because he was clearly named as an individual
    
    under the will’s provisions and no statute barred him from recovering.
    
           On appeal, Marcia makes two arguments. First, she contends the
    
    district court made an error of law in its determination of the testator’s
    
           1The  parties dispute whether Marrian had notice and approved of Russell’s
    adoption and whether Russell maintained a relationship with her after the adoption.
    While Russell claims he maintained a relationship with his parents after the adoption
    as before, Marcia asserts “[h]e terminated [the parent–child] relationship” when he was
    adopted and “just divorced the family.” Although she took care of Marrian regularly
    after Russell’s adoption in 2007, Marcia was not aware that her mother ever told
    anyone Russell was no longer her son.
           2The   parties in this case have been involved in other litigation as well. Today we
    also file our decision in Newhall v. Roll, 
    888 N.W.2d 636
     (Iowa 2016), a partition action
    filed by Russell against Marcia.
                                          4
    
    intent.   In particular, Marcia asserts the district court misunderstood
    
    relevant caselaw and did not take into account the will’s language or the
    
    facts and circumstances surrounding its execution.         Second, Marcia
    
    asserts that even if the terms of the will would otherwise permit Russell
    
    to inherit despite his adoption by Anway, we should hold—based on
    
    public policy—that a beneficiary’s right to inherit under a biological
    
    relative’s will is extinguished when the beneficiary severs his or her legal
    
    relationship with that relative through a voluntary adult adoption.
    
          Russell contends his status as a beneficiary under Marrian’s will
    
    persists even after his adoption because he is a named beneficiary—not
    
    merely an unidentified member of a familial class consisting of the
    
    testator’s children.
    
          II. Standard of Review.
    
          We review summary judgment rulings for correction of errors at
    
    law. Baker v. City of Iowa City, 
    867 N.W.2d 44
    , 51 (Iowa 2015). “On
    
    review, ‘we examine the record before the district court to determine
    
    whether any material fact is in dispute, and if not, whether the district
    
    court correctly applied the law.’ ”       J.A.H. ex rel. R.M.H. v. Wadle &
    
    Assocs., P.C., 
    589 N.W.2d 256
    , 258 (Iowa 1999) (quoting Shriver v. City of
    
    Okoboji, 
    567 N.W.2d 397
    , 400 (Iowa 1997)). “We . . . view the record in
    
    the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and will grant that party
    
    all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from the record.” Estate of
    
    Gray ex rel. Gray v. Baldi, 
    880 N.W.2d 451
    , 455 (Iowa 2016) (quoting
    
    Cawthorn v. Catholic Health Initiatives Iowa Corp., 
    806 N.W.2d 282
    , 286
    
    (Iowa 2011)).
    
          III. Analysis.
    
          By statute, the legal parent–child relationship between Marrian
    
    and Russell, an adult, was terminated by the decree of adoption
                                         5
    
    establishing a new parent–child relationship between Russell and Anway.
    
    Iowa Code § 600A.3 (2014) (“[T]ermination of parental rights between an
    
    adult child and the child’s parents may be accomplished by a decree of
    
    adoption establishing a new parent-child relationship.”).      Although the
    
    adoption clearly terminated Russell’s rights to inherit from his biological
    
    mother under the law of intestate succession, see id. § 633.223(1),
    
    Marrian died testate. Thus, the question now before the court is whether
    
    the adoption by Anway also extinguished Russell’s right to inherit under
    
    Marrian’s will.
    
          A. General Principles of Will Construction.             In Iowa, the
    
    cardinal rule of will construction is that “the intent of the testator is the
    
    polestar and must prevail.” In re Estate of Rogers, 
    473 N.W.2d 36
    , 39
    
    (Iowa 1991). In determining the testator’s intent, we consider “(a) all of
    
    the language contained within the four corners of the will, (b) the scheme
    
    of distribution, (c) the surrounding circumstances at the time of the will’s
    
    execution[,] and (d) the existing facts.”    Id.   The court considers the
    
    instrument as a whole and tries to give each part meaning and effect. Id.
    
    Although the effect of a will’s language is determined at the date of the
    
    testator’s death, the intended meaning of the language used is
    
    “construed as of the date of its execution.” Benz v. Paulson, 
    246 Iowa 1005
    , 1013, 
    70 N.W.2d 570
    , 574 (1955) (quoting In re Estate of Warren,
    
    
    211 Iowa 940
    , 948–49, 
    234 N.W. 835
    , 839 (1931), abrogated in part on
    
    other grounds by In re Estate of Kern, 
    274 N.W.2d 325
    , 327–28 (Iowa
    
    1979)).
    
          The court applies an objective standard when determining the
    
    testator’s intent.   Rogers, 473 N.W.2d at 39.      We consider “what the
    
    testator did say” and “not what the testator meant to say.”         Id.   The
    
    testator’s intended meaning of words controls and is gathered from a
                                         6
    
    reading of the instrument as a whole.        In re Estate of Roberts, 
    171 N.W.2d 269
    , 271–72 (Iowa 1969). The court will only resort to technical
    
    definitions or cannons of construction if the testator’s intended meaning
    
    is ambiguous, uncertain, or conflicting. Id. at 272; Rogers, 473 N.W.2d
    
    at 39; see also, e.g., In re Estate of Nicolaus, 
    366 N.W.2d 562
    , 564–65
    
    (Iowa 1985) (interpreting meaning of “issue” used in a will consistently
    
    with probate code provisions where intended meaning was uncertain).
    
    The court will not use extrinsic evidence of the testator’s subjective intent
    
    “to vary, contradict[,] or add to terms of the will.” Rogers, 473 N.W.2d at
    
    39. Testators are presumed to know the legal effect of language in their
    
    wills, particularly when the wills are drafted by experienced scriveners.
    
    Id. at 40.
    
          The court first looks to existing law to resolve questions of
    
    ambiguity. See First Nat’l Bank of Dubuque v. Mackey, 
    338 N.W.2d 361
    ,
    
    362 (Iowa 1983) (“[U]nless the term ‘legally adopted child’ must be
    
    deemed to include all adopted persons, [the testator’s] intent cannot be
    
    ascertained without resort to rules of construction.”). If existing law does
    
    not resolve the ambiguity, the court turns to rules of construction for
    
    guidance.    Id.   The court may also consider extrinsic evidence in
    
    resolving the ambiguity. Rogers, 473 N.W.2d at 39.
    
          B. Application of General Principles. In this case, we find the
    
    relevant provision of Marrian’s will is ambiguous.         The gift “to my
    
    children, RUSSELL L. NEWHALL and MARCIA E. ROLL” is capable of
    
    multiple meanings because it describes the beneficiaries as members of a
    
    class and as individuals. The provision could therefore be understood to
    
    mean Marrian intended a class gift or an individual gift. If she intended
    
    a class gift, the naming of Russell and Marcia could have constituted a
    
    list of the members of the benefitted class at the time the will was
                                           7
    
    executed. If Marrian intended instead to make individual gifts to Russell
    
    and Marcia, then the class reference (my children) could be understood
    
    as merely a means of specifying which “Russell L. Newhall” and which
    
    “Marcia E. Roll” were beneficiaries.
    
          Marcia contends the will evidences Marrian’s intent to make a
    
    class gift. We find no evidence in this record showing Marrian actually
    
    considered      before   executing   her   will   whether   her   parent–child
    
    relationship with Russell would be legally extant at the time of her death.
    
    Therefore, in resolving the ambiguity we consider whether the relevant
    
    testamentary provision is deemed an individual or class gift under
    
    existing law.
    
          Marcia also asserts the mere naming of individuals within a class
    
    does not override a class designation.        She contends the gift “to my
    
    children, RUSSELL L. NEWHALL and MARCIA E. ROLL” is properly
    
    characterized as a class gift instead of an individual gift. She posits that
    
    only the class-gift characterization gives meaning to the word “children”
    
    in the relevant testamentary provision.           Russell is precluded from
    
    inheriting, Marcia contends, because the gift is to a class of Marrian’s
    
    “children,” and Russell was Marrian’s nephew—not her child—after his
    
    2007 adoption by Anway.
    
          Russell responds that the law in Iowa is well-settled that a bequest
    
    identifying its recipients by name and by class is an individual gift.
    
    Marcia disagrees, contending this case is one of first impression on the
    
    legal effect of an adult beneficiary’s adoption occurring after a will’s
    
    execution.
    
          Under Iowa law, a class gift is defined as “a gift to two or more
    
    persons who are not named and have one or more characteristics in
    
    common by which they are indicated or who answer to a general
                                         8
    
    description.”     Elliott v. Hiddleson, 
    303 N.W.2d 140
    , 142 (Iowa 1981)
    
    (emphasis added) (quoting In re Estate of Kalouse, 
    282 N.W.2d 98
    , 101
    
    (Iowa 1979)). An individual gift designates beneficiaries by name. See In
    
    re French’s Estate, 
    242 Iowa 113
    , 123, 
    44 N.W.2d 706
    , 712 (1950).
    
          The rule that a bequest or devise to persons who are designated by
    
    name and by class is a gift to individuals and not a class is well-
    
    established in our caselaw.     In In re Estate of Carter, we considered
    
    whether a bequest to three of the testator’s grandchildren was a gift to a
    
    class or to the three grandchildren who were named in the testamentary
    
    provision.      
    203 Iowa 603
    , 604–05, 
    213 N.W. 392
    , 394 (1927).          The
    
    determination was necessary because one of the named grandchildren
    
    predeceased the testator and the court was therefore presented with the
    
    question of whether that grandchild’s heirs or her two siblings would
    
    inherit a share of the testator’s estate. Id. at 604–05, 213 N.W. at 393–
    
    94. In adopting the rule that a gift to named individuals prevails over a
    
    class description of beneficiaries, we reasoned:
    
          It seems to be . . . well settled that, where the beneficiaries
          are designated by name, it prima facie indicates an intention
          to give to them only as individuals. Where legatees are
          named as individuals and also described as a class, and
          there is nothing more to show the testator’s intention, the
          construction is that the gift by name constitutes a gift to the
          individual, to which class description is added by way of
          identification. The court attaches great importance to the
          designation of the devisees severally by name, and a
          provision that they shall share the gift in a fixed and definite
          proportion.
    
    Id. at 605, 213 N.W. at 394. Accordingly, we concluded the heirs of the
    
    grandchild who predeceased the testator inherited the share of their
    
    deceased mother. Id.
    
          In Friederichs v. Friederichs, a will left a remainder interest in real
    
    estate “to [the testator’s] brothers and sisters” who were identified by
                                         9
    
    name. 
    205 Iowa 505
    , 505–06, 
    218 N.W. 271
    , 272 (1928). Because two
    
    of the testator’s siblings named in the testamentary provision had died
    
    before the will was executed, the court was called upon to decide whether
    
    the testator intended an individual or a class gift to his siblings. Id. The
    
    district court concluded the devise to the siblings who predeceased the
    
    testator lapsed in favor of those who survived. Id. at 506, 218 N.W. at
    
    272. Reversing the judgment and decree on appeal, we concluded the
    
    testator—by naming the beneficiaries as individuals—manifested a prima
    
    facie intent for an individual gift and not a class gift. Id. at 508, 218
    
    N.W. at 273.    Finding no contrary testamentary intent in the will, we
    
    determined the devise to the testator’s deceased siblings “did not lapse,
    
    but passed to [the deceased siblings’] heirs.” Id.
    
          Although the challenge to Russell’s status as a beneficiary under
    
    Marrian’s will does not turn on whether he survived the testator, we find
    
    the reasoning of Carter and Friederichs persuasive here. Read together,
    
    Carter and Friederichs stand for the proposition that a gift identifying a
    
    beneficiary both as an individual and by class description is a valid gift
    
    to a named individual in the absence of a testator’s contrary intent. In
    
    both cases, we upheld a gift to a beneficiary who was named individually
    
    and described by class even though at the time of the testator’s death,
    
    the beneficiary was no longer a member of the class for purposes of our
    
    rules of inheritance.      We concluded in each case that naming a
    
    beneficiary as an individual and by class indicates a prima facie intent to
    
    make an individual gift.
    
          We reaffirm that rule in this case.       Russell was named as a
    
    beneficiary in the will individually and as a member of a class of
    
    “children.”   As such, he is the beneficiary of an individual gift in the
    
    absence of Marrian’s contrary intent; his nonmembership in the class of
                                        10
    
    Marrian’s children at the time of her death is not dispositive.
    
    Accordingly, we conclude the testamentary gift to Russell survived the
    
    adoption by Anway unless there is sufficient evidence in the record to
    
    establish Marrian intended for her beneficiaries to include only those of
    
    her children that had not been adopted-out prior to the time of her
    
    death.
    
          On appeal, Marcia makes three arguments supporting her
    
    contention that Marrian intended to make a gift to only those of her
    
    children who were her children as defined by the law at the time of her
    
    death. First, Marcia contends Marrian’s intention to make a class gift is
    
    manifested by her specific testamentary directive that “[a]ll references to
    
    child or children shall include all children born to or adopted by me after
    
    the date this Will is executed.” Put another way, Marcia advances the
    
    argument that Marrian’s inclusion of subsequently adopted-in children
    
    and her failure to mention subsequently adopted-out persons among the
    
    class of beneficiaries suggests a testamentary intent to exclude those
    
    who might be adopted out.
    
          We disagree. Here, there is ample evidence within the four corners
    
    of the will that Marrian intended to give to Russell and Marcia as
    
    individuals. Notably, although Marrian did not specify that adopted-out
    
    children are included within the class of “children,” she also did not
    
    specify they are not. She instead expressly defined the term “children”
    
    as including Russell. In this context, the definition of “children” is not
    
    necessarily limited to the technical, legal definition of the term.    See
    
    Gilbert v. Wenzel, 
    247 Iowa 1279
    , 1282, 
    78 N.W.2d 793
    , 795 (1959)
    
    (noting that terms in a will are “not always used in [their] strict legal
    
    sense but [their] meaning in a particular instance is determined from the
    
    will and surrounding circumstances”).
                                        11
    
          Moreover, in addition to providing that Russell and Marcia were to
    
    be cobeneficiaries of the residue of the estate, the will appointed Russell
    
    and Marcia as coexecutors. In appointing the two as coexecutors, the
    
    will described them only as individuals and not as members of a class.
    
    Viewed together, the two provisions of the will naming Russell and
    
    Marcia—one concerning the residue and the other concerning the
    
    appointment of coexecutors—support the conclusion that the testator’s
    
    primary intent was to provide for her biological children, Russell and
    
    Marcia, as individuals.    There is little reason to think Marrian would
    
    have conditioned Russell’s inheritance on his legal status as her child at
    
    the date of her death while nominating him as a coexecutor without
    
    regard to their legal relationship at the time of her death.         Thus,
    
    Marrian’s expressed intent to include as beneficiaries those who might
    
    later become her children is not probative of her intent to exclude named
    
    beneficiaries who were her biological offspring, but who might later be
    
    adopted by someone else.
    
          Second, Marcia contends the district court’s determination that the
    
    gift to Russell was an individual gift renders the word “children”
    
    meaningless in the will.     Contrary to Marcia’s assertion, the class
    
    description does not become meaningless if the gift is characterized as an
    
    individual gift. As we said almost 100 years ago, when testamentary gifts
    
    are directed to persons described by name and by class, the class
    
    description serves a purpose. Carter, 203 Iowa at 605, 213 N.W. at 394;
    
    see also In re Murphy’s Estate, 
    106 P. 230
    , 233 (Cal. 1909).           The
    
    designation of “children” indicates—if there should be a dispute—which
    
    Russell L. Newhall was the intended beneficiary. Although there is no
    
    evidence Marrian anticipated such a dispute about identity in this case,
    
    the designation of “children” could be especially important in families
                                             12
    
    where people share the same name.               For example, if there were two
    
    people named Russell L. Newhall that claimed the right to inherit under
    
    her will, one being the testator’s nephew and the other her son, there
    
    would be no question about which Russell L. Newhall was the intended
    
    beneficiary.     Further, the word “children” is not rendered meaningless
    
    when not understood as a dispositive identifier in this case because the
    
    word “children” can have legal, practical, and biological meanings.                 In
    
    this case, the parties only agree that Russell is no longer the testator’s
    
    child in the strictly legal sense of the word.
    
           Finally, Marcia contends the district court’s inclusion of adopted-
    
    out persons within the class of “children” eligible to inherit assigns a
    
    different meaning to “children” than is set forth in the probate code. See
    
    Iowa Code § 600A.3; id. § 633.223. Although she is correct that adopted-
    
    out individuals are no longer children for purposes of intestate
    
    succession under Iowa law, this is not a case of intestate succession.
    
           Our conclusion in this case is consistent with the decisions of
    
    other courts allowing adopted-away persons to take under the terms of a
    
    biological relative’s will. See, e.g., In re Estate of Lippincott, 
    532 N.Y.S.2d 1021
    , 1023 (Sur. Ct. 1988) (determining an adopted-out child who was
    
    specifically named as one of the testator’s grandchildren was entitled to
    
    take under a residuary gift to the testator’s grandchildren); 3 Seeley v.
    
    Bedillion, 
    260 N.E.2d 639
    , 641–42 (Ohio Ct. Com. Pl. 1969) (holding an
    
    adopted-away child was entitled to a share of a testamentary trust where
    
    the child was specifically named in the instrument as a member of an
    
           3Marcia claims Lippincott should be distinguished because the testator in that
    case made the gift long after the adoption and in knowledge of it, and the gift met the
    conditions of a statute precluding gifts to adopted-away individuals unless certain
    conditions were met. Although those facts limit the persuasive force of Lippincott, we
    conclude the case is still supportive of Russell’s position.
                                         13
    
    open class of children and a statute provided it did not bar adopted-out
    
    individuals from taking under a biological relative’s will in which the
    
    adopted-out individual is clearly identified); In re Schaeffer Estate, 
    83 Pa. D
    . & C. 281, 281–83 (Orphans’ Ct. 1952) (holding an adopted-out child
    
    was entitled to take under a clause that left the residue of an estate “to
    
    my children” and thereafter named them); see also Christopher H. Hall,
    
    Annotation, Adoption as Precluding Testamentary Gift Under Natural
    
    Relative’s Will, 71 A.L.R.4th §§ 2, 8, at 378, 398–99 (1981).
    
          C. Public Policy.     Marcia contends in the alternative that this
    
    court should hold—as a matter of public policy—an adult beneficiary’s
    
    right to take under a biological relative’s will terminates upon the
    
    beneficiary’s adoption.   She raises two justifications for such a rule.
    
    First, she posits the rule would discourage people from using the
    
    adoption code to manipulate the rules of inheritance or to avoid paying
    
    inheritance taxes.   Second, she contends such an exception would be
    
    consistent with Iowa’s “strong public policy” to sever “all legal
    
    relationships between the adopted person and his biological relatives,
    
    including the adopted person’s right to inherit from his biological
    
    relatives.”
    
          1. Preventing manipulation of the rules of inheritance.        Marcia
    
    points out we have already determined there is no public policy reason
    
    favoring adult adoptions that are “primarily for the purpose of creating
    
    an heir.” Schaefer v. Merchs. Nat’l Bank of Cedar Rapids, 
    160 N.W.2d 318
    , 323 (Iowa 1968).      She posits public policy would therefore be
    
    advanced by a rule discouraging adult adoptions as a mechanism for
    
    manipulating Iowa’s inheritance and tax rules.
                                               14
    
           Marcia and Russell agree that their paternal biological aunt
    
    adopted Russell to avoid paying inheritance taxes, among other reasons. 4
    
    Russell argues, however, that no offense to public policy resulted from
    
    his inheritance from Marrian. While he did not pay inheritance taxes on
    
    the land he inherited from Anway, he has already paid inheritance tax on
    
    the property inherited from Marrian.
    
           The court has the power to prevent a gift if it violates public policy.
    
    Roberts, 171 N.W.2d at 271 (“[A] testator has the legal right to make any
    
    distribution of . . . property . . . not contrary to law or public policy.”
    
    (quoting In re Estate of Pottorff, 
    216 Iowa 1370
    , 1373, 
    250 N.W. 463
    , 465
    
    (1933)). If the testamentary gift from Marrian to Russell violates public
    
    policy, the court has the power to preclude Russell from receiving it. See
    
    Schaefer, 160 N.W.2d at 323 (precluding a beneficiary under a trust from
    
    receiving property as an heir because her adoption into the family was
    
    for the purposes of manipulating inheritance laws).
    
           We conclude the gift from Marrian to Russell does not subvert
    
    Iowa’s inheritance laws. The testamentary gift from Marrian to Russell is
    
    a common one from a mother to her biological child. The question of the
    
    tax treatment of that gift is not before us.
    
           2.   General public policy.        Marcia also contends a public policy
    
    prohibiting adult adoptees from inheriting under their biological parents’
    
    wills should be recognized because it would be consistent with other
    
    public policy of this state. The public policy she urges is based on the
    
    
    
    
           4Marcia alleges in her brief on appeal that Russell cut ties with Marrian after she
    executed her will and after he received a substantial “inheritance” from his parents
    through an inter vivos gift. We do not credit these factual allegations because they are
    not supported in the record on summary judgment.
                                        15
    
    proposition that all legal relationships between an adopted-out individual
    
    and his or her biological relatives are severed by adoption.
    
          She cites our decision in Teachout v. Forest City Community School
    
    District, 
    584 N.W.2d 296
     (Iowa 1998) as authority for this policy-based
    
    argument.    In Teachout, we concluded a statute’s forceful language
    
    evidenced a public policy protecting at-will employees who report child
    
    abuse. Id. at 300–01. Marcia contends sections 600A.3, 633.223, and
    
    633.271 of the Iowa Code, together with Iowa’s Tax Code, reveal in a
    
    similarly forceful way a public policy against inheritance by persons
    
    adopted-out as adults from their biological families.
    
          Section 600A.3 of the Iowa Code extinguishes the parent–child
    
    relationship between an adopted-out         adult and that      individual’s
    
    biological parents.   Iowa Code § 600A.3.    Section 633.223 of the Iowa
    
    Code provides that with few exceptions, “a lawful adoption extinguishes
    
    the right of intestate succession” between the adoptee and his or her
    
    biological parents.    Id. § 633.223.    Section 633.271 disinherits ex-
    
    spouses from taking under the terms of their ex-spouse’s will.           Id.
    
    § 633.271. Marcia cites the Iowa Tax Code generally for the proposition
    
    that adopted-out individuals must pay inheritance taxes on gifts from
    
    their biological parents while children whose legal relationships were not
    
    terminated do not.      Her argument seems to be that public policy
    
    supports the legislature’s grant of a tax benefit in this context to persons
    
    who are recognized under the law as a decedent’s children, but disfavors
    
    a decedent’s biological children who have been adopted out.
    
          Russell asserts that because sections 633.223 and 633.271 only
    
    apply to intestate succession and dissolution of marriages respectively,
    
    “the legislature kept open the possibility that a person adopted out of the
    
    family could receive [testamentary] gifts from a biological parent.”     He
                                        16
    
    argues that the court “should not create new law to prevent a named
    
    beneficiary from receiving a gift, devise or bequest under a Will simply
    
    because the legal parent-child relationship was subsequently severed.”
    
    We agree.
    
          As noted above, testators in Iowa have “the legal right to make any
    
    distribution of . . . property . . . not contrary to law or public policy.”
    
    Roberts, 171 N.W.2d at 271 (quoting Pottorff, 216 Iowa at 1373, 250 N.W.
    
    at 465). We find no basis for concluding Iowa’s public policy prevents
    
    testators from leaving property to their biological children who have been
    
    adopted away, whether as a child or an adult.
    
          IV. Conclusion.
    
          The testamentary gift to Russell as a named beneficiary and as a
    
    member of a class (the testator’s children) did not fail because of his
    
    adoption as an adult after the testator executed her will. We therefore
    
    affirm the judgment.
    
          AFFIRMED.