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Video: Man’s 42-year-old girlfriend is now his daughter

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    >> highly unusual legal maneuver that is raising eyebrows. a wealthy florida man has adopted had is girlfriend, apparently to shield his assets in a wrongful death lawsuit. nbc's kerry sanders is in wellington, florida , to explain what's going on. hey, kerry, good morning.

    >> good morning, ann, this is as unusual as it sounds, and legal scholars say it may be a first. a 48-year-old man, adopting his 42-year-old girlfriend, and calling her his daughter. all in an attempt to shield his personal fortune in a civil fatal drunk driving case. it might sound like the punch line to a bad joke, but it's true. that's 48-year-old john goodman , standing next to his 42-year-old girlfriend, who is also his daughter. goodman is charged in a drunk driving accident that left a 23-year-old dead. he legally adopted his girlfriend, heather hutchins, personal injury lawyers say, in an effort to shelter his family fortune, in an upcoming civil case .

    >> i was flabbergasted to learn of it.

    >> christian and scott smith .

    >> it is definitely unusual.

    >> represent scott wilson 's family.

    >> this is very difficult. not knowing what happens. not knowing if he could have been saved.

    >> deputies say the 23-year-old died when goodman 's convertible bentley t-boned wilson's hyundai in 2010 at an intersection in wellington, florida . it was 1:00 a.m ., the road was deserted. investigators later snapped this photo of goodman grinning at he sat in his hospital bed, a nurse had just drawn his blood. prosecutors say goodman 's alcohol was .177, more than twice the legal limit. in their reports, traffic homicide investigators say goodman walked away from the scene of the collision. and didn't call 911 for 54 minutes. that's been especially painful for scott wilson 's family. because the medical examiner says the 23-year-old did not die in the crash. rather, he drowned in the upside-down car.

    >> there should have been an attempt by mr. goodman to try to save him.

    >> goodman , whose family earned their wealth in the air conditioning business, is known worldwide for the famed international polo club in wellington that he built. his net worth is a secret. but his father sold the family company eight years ago, for $1.4 billion. now that goodman 's girlfriend is his daughter, she's immediately entitled to a third of his money. the other two thirds belong to his two biological children.

    >> as weird as it may seem, as odd as it may seem, it does look as though this is perfectly legal .

    >> goodman has said he is going to fight these drunk driving charges. he's pled not guilty. and will face the criminal charges next month. now we reached out to his attorneys to see if they would comment on this adoption twist. and they did not return our calls. and ann, if you're wondering now, if he were to have sexual relations with his girlfriend, would that be considered incest. under florida law , that is not the case. because in this case, father and daughter are not close blood relatives . and that's the definition in the florida legal language , they have to be close blood relatives for it to be a crime.

    >> i actually was wondering, so thanks for answering that question. kerry sanders , it's 7:34, here's

Image: John Goodman
It recently came to light that John Goodman legally adopted his 42-year-old girlfriend Heather Hutchins in October.
TODAY contributor
updated 2/1/2012 5:58:15 PM ET 2012-02-01T22:58:15

A wealthy Florida man has set off a firestorm by legally adopting his 42-year-old girlfriend as he prepares for a potentially costly wrongful death suit.

John Goodman, 49, founder of the tony International Polo Club in Wellington, Fla., was involved in a crash on Feb. 12, 2010 that killed 23-year-old Scott Patrick Wilson. Local police say Goodman ran a stop sign while driving with a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit in Florida.

Video: Man’s 42-year-old girlfriend is now his daughter (on this page)

While Goodman faces criminal charges of DUI manslaughter, vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of an accident that carry a possible 30-year prison term in a trial set for March 6, he also faces a civil suit from William and Lili Wilson over the death of their son. That trial is set to begin March 27.

In recently released court documents, the Wilsons learned that Goodman had legally adopted his girlfriend Heather Hutchins in October. Attorneys for the Wilsons say it was a blatant move to protect his assets.

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"It cannot go unrecognized that [Goodman] chose to adopt his 42-year-old girlfriend as opposed to a needy child," The Palm Beach Post newspaper quoted family attorney Scott Smith as saying.

Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley had previously ruled a trust fund Goodman had established for his two minor children could not be considered an asset in any court-rewarded damages to the Wilson family. Now, with Hutchins also considered Goodman's daughter, she is entitled to one-third of the trust fund, and as an adult over 35 she can begin drawing money from the fund immediately.

Judge Kelley was critical of Goodman's move in his order granting the Wilson family the right to information regarding the adoption. Kelley said the adoption "border(s) on the surreal," The Palm Beach Post reported.

"The Court cannot ignore reality or the practical impact of what Mr. Goodman has now done," Judge Kelley wrote. "The Defendant has effectively diverted a significant portion of the assets of the children's trust to a person with whom he is intimately involved at a time when his personal assets are largely at risk in this case."

While Goodman's move has tongues wagging on the society scene in south Florida, a state adoption expert told WPEC-TV in West Palm Beach that Goodman adopting his girlfriend may not be strictly legal.

"Adoption means the act of creating the legal relationship between parent and child where it did not exist," adoption attorney Charlotte Danciu told the station.

"Unless you intend to create the parent-child relationship, you are violating the letter of the law."

Story: Picking your parents: Adult adoption creates new bond

A probate court is expected to rule on the legitimacy of Hutchins, in effect, becoming an heir to Goodman's children's trust fund. Goodman's attorney Dan Bachi told The Palm Beach Post the adoption was only undertaken to stabilize the children's future through the trust. "It has nothing to do with the lawsuit currently pending against him," Bachi said.

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