Trusts and Estates

Adult Adoption as an Estate Planning Tool

Adult adoption occurs when an adult adopts a person who is over age 18. Generally this is done to secure inheritance rights for the adoptee but it may also be done for other reasons, such as to formalize an existing parent-child relationship.

Adult adoptions can also include those who want to provide for a same-sex partner, stepchild, distant relative or even a loyal employee.

Requirements for Adult Adoption

Many states simply prohibit all adult adoptions. In the states that allow adult adoptions, sometimes all that is required is the adoptee must be a legal adult and voluntarily agree to the adoption. However, adult adoptions are governed by state law and requirements vary from state to state.

  • Some states require that the adopting party is older than the person adopted
  • Some states allow adult adoption only if the person to be adopted is of diminished mental capacity
  • If the adult up for adoption is married, some states want to have the consent of the adopted person's spouse
  • Some states require notification of the birth parents

Since the laws of various states differ, you'll want to check your own state laws on adult adoption.

Intestate Succession

Intestate succession is the way in which property is distributed under state law when someone dies and didn't have a will. Each state has certain property distribution rules that come into play when a person dies without a will. If you would like an adult to receive part of your estate but you don't have a will, and you don't plan on making one, then you may want to consider adoption. Adoption creates a legally recognized parent-child relationship so the adopted person can inherit from the adoptive parent.

The adoption of an adult allows someone to leave property or financial assets to the adopted person more easily. In addition, trust fund beneficiaries who do not have children of their own may be able to use adult adoption to steer trust funds to the person of their choice, rather than have the money go to their siblings, the children of their siblings or other relatives. Things left in a trust can be manipulated somewhat by adoption.

Avoid Mistakes

If you are considering adopting an adult then think about what you want to happen if your relationship with the adoptee ends. What rights do you want to keep for any children you may have in the future? Inform family members about your intentions to adopt an adult. Also, make sure your lawyer has all the facts.

In some families, adult adoption leads to a struggle between blood relatives trying to keep an inheritance in the family and an adult whose legal status in the family has come through adoption.

Reversing Adoption

Adoptions are difficult to reverse so the strategy of using adult adoption as an estate planning tool can have undesired consequences if the relationship ends. The adoptee will still receive a share of money. 

Adoption Process

The adoption process is the same whether you're adopting a child or an adult. The court will issue a new birth certificate for the adopted individual. The legal relationships with biological or custodial parents are severed. The adopted adult may change her last name if desired. Finally, the adoption records are usually sealed.

Severs Parental Relationship

An adoption creates a new parent-child relationship and severs the existing relationship with biological parents or with the non-custodial biological parent only, in the case of stepparent adult adoption.

New Birth Certificate Issued

An amended birth certificate will be issued for the adopted person, showing the adoptive parents as birth parents.

Name Change

The last name of the adopted person may be changed to that of the adoptive parent.

Records Are Sealed

Adult adoption records are treated the same as those for child adoptions in that the records about the adoption are sealed according to state law. Parties to the adoption should keep copies of all documents relating to the adoption.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Under what circumstances is it a good idea to use adult adoption as an estate planning tool?
  • Is there some way to view or get a copy of sealed adult adoption records?
  • May I keep my current last name after I am adopted if my adoptive parent wants it changed?
  • If adult adoption isn't allowed in my state, can the adoption be done in another state? Will the adoption then be recognized by all states?
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