Adoption and Inheritance Rights

Can an adopted child inherit from his/her birthparents as well as adoptive parents? Can a birthparent claim some of the estate of an adopted child who dies? In some states, the answer is yes!

There are two major things to keep in mind when reading this blog:

1. This blog refers to state “intestate” inheritance laws, meaning laws regarding the estate of someone who dies without having made a will. If you make a will, you can direct that your money and other assets go to your adoptive child, your birth child, your adoptive parent, your birthparent, your neighbor’s third cousin’s spouse’s nephew, or anyone you please.

2. This blog was written from information in the Encyclopedia of Adoption, 2007 edition, by Christine Adamec and Laurie Miller. Neither the authors nor I are attorneys, and laws do change.

So to sum up those two concerns, let me say: every parent, as well as anyone with any assets to leave, should draw up a will. And, if you have a personal need to know about inheritance and adoption, consult an attorney.

I presume the applicable state law would be that of the state of residence of the deceased.

Now that I’ve said all that, you will be relieved to know that all states recognize adopted children as the children of the adoptive parents and states that they are entitled to inherit from their adoptive parents’ estates just as birth children are. The state of Illinois makes an exception for those who were adopted as adults and never resided with the adoptive parents before turning 18. The state of Maryland does not specifically address inheritance rights of adopted children, but the Encyclopedia of Adoption states, “May be inferred from Family Law 5-308: After a decree of adoption is entered, the adopted person is the child of the petitioner [the parent who petitions to have the adoption finalized] and is entitled to all rights and privileges, and subject to all the obligations of, a child born to the petitioner.”

If it is the adopted person who dies, the adoptive parents and their family are entitled to inherit from their adoptive child’s estate as if the child was born to them. What that “as if born to them” turns out to be depends on state laws and on the deceased’s family situation. In most states the deceased’s spouse and/or children, if any, inherit before the deceased parents or siblings.

Two exceptions are Tennessee, which limits the adoptive family’s right of inheritance to property the adopted child acquired after the adoption; and Illinois, which states that the birth family shall receive from the deceased adoptee’s estate any property that the adoptee inherited or was given from the birth relatives.

My next blog will address the question of the birth parents and where and under what circumstances they and their birth child may inherit from each other.

Please see these related blogs:

Acceptance of Adopted Children by Extended Family

Not the Acceptance that was Expected

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About Pam Connell

Pam Connell is a mother of three by both birth and adoption. She has worked in education, child care, social services, ministry and journalism. She resides near Seattle with her husband Charles and their three children. Pam is currently primarily a Stay-at-Home-Mom to Patrick, age 8, who was born to her; Meg, age 6, and Regina, age 3, who are biological half-sisters adopted from Korea. She also teaches preschoolers twice a week and does some writing. Her activities include volunteer work at school, church, Cub Scouts and a local Birth to Three Early Intervention Program. Her hobbies include reading, writing, travel, camping, walking in the woods, swimming and scrapbooking. Pam is a graduate of Seattle University and Gonzaga University. Her fields of study included journalism, religious education/pastoral ministry, political science and management. She served as a writer and editor of the college weekly newspaper and has been Program Coordinator of a Family Resource Center and Family Literacy Program, Volunteer Coordinator at a church, Religion Teacher, Preschool Teacher, Youth Ministry Coordinator, Camp Counselor and Nanny. Pam is an avid reader and continuing student in the areas of education, child development, adoption and public policy. She is eager to share her experiences as a mother by birth and by international adoption, as a mother of three kids of different learning styles and personalities, as a mother of kids of different races, and most of all as a mom of three wonderful kids!