Generally speaking, adopted children have the same rights as biological offspring when it comes to inheriting from their parents. However, there are a few distinctions that apply to adopted children under specific circumstances (and sometimes only in states that have embraced particular approaches to various legal theories).
Different Parent-Child Relationships
There are a few scenarios connected to the adoption process that can affect inheritance rights under limited circumstances. A child may be fully adopted by two non-biological parent(s), a child may be adopted by a stepparent, or a child may benefit from a second parent adoption.
- Adoption of a minor creates a legal parent-child relationship between the adopted child and their adoptive parents which removes a legal relationship between the child and their birth parents.
- Step-parent adoptions allow a child to be adopted by a stepparent or another adult without removing a legal relationship with one biological parent.
- A second parent adoption works similarly. Both stepparent and second parent adoptions are favorable to non-traditional or blended families and allow them to introduce new parental figures without having to destroy other legal ties to existing parental relationships.
Consent of the birth parents is required for the latter types of adoption and all parents must work as a team to provide what is best for the child. If consent cannot be obtained because of the death of a biological parent, the child may retain a legal connection to that parent’s surviving family.
Inheritance Rights of Children
Adoptive children have legal inheritance rights to their adoptive parents, but not with their biological parents, unless they retain a legal relationship to those biological parents as outlined above. This is due to the severance of legal relationships with one or both of their birth parents once they are adopted.
Inheritance rights for adopted children generally include:
- If a parent dies without a will or estate plan, dependent children (biological, step, or adopted) have a right to a portion of the estate.
- Adopted children have the right to a part of the estate even if they were accidentally left out of the will.
- An adopted child is included in any references to the deceased’s children in their will. Sometimes estate planning documents reference all the surviving children in a group rather than individually. The only exception is if the will explicitly excludes the adopted child.
Can a Child Inherit From Their Birth Parents?
In the case of open adoptions, it is possible that an adoptee may remain socially close with their birth family. Although the child will not have automatic inheritance rights to their birth parents’ estate, the birth family may choose to provide them with inheritance anyway. A birth parent can provide gifts through their wills or trusts as well as through other estate planning documents, just as anyone can choose to distribute property to anyone they please, provided that their estate planning documents are structured properly.
Consult a Lawyer
You likely have questions regarding adoption and inheritance, given that no two families’ situations are exactly alike. Consider speaking with an experienced wills lawyer, like those at McCarthy Law, LLC to learn more about which rules may apply to your unique situation. Each state’s laws are unique, so general “rules of thumb” may not apply to your circumstances, depending upon where you live. Speaking with a knowledgeable local attorney will help to clarify your situation so that you can feel sufficiently empowered to make informed choices about your options.