Estate Planning and the Consequences of Adult Adoption

Most Americans assume that after their parents die, they will inherit from them the biological and adopted siblings they knew while growing up. However, what few people ever imagine is that their parents may choose to adopt an adult “child” later on in life. Nevertheless, this scenario has become much more common than many of us might ever have imagined. Before looking at some of the consequences of adult adoption, let’s look at what the Georgia statutes say about this legal process.

Georgia Law on One Adult Adopting Another Adult

            According to Georgia Statute Title 19 (“Domestic Relations”), Chapter 8 (“Adoptions”), once a petition is filed by one adult to adopt another, the court will speak with both parties to determine if there is any reason to turn down the application. Each adult must provide his or her full name, age and residence, along with the name “by which the adult [to be adopted] is to be known.”  Both parties must sign paperwork indicating this request, with the adult being adopted clearly indicating his or her desire to be adopted by the other adult. Once this court decree is entered [and a requested name change granted if one is requested by the adopted adult], the court is legally declaring that from that moment forward, “the relation between each petitioner and the adopted adult shall be, as to their legal rights and liabilities, the relation of parent and child.”

Needless to say, this process can create rather surprising results once an adoptive parent passes away. For this reason,   it’s important to review some of the consequences of adult adoption.                                           

What May Occur Following An Adult Adoption –  Before and After Your Death

  • You will almost certainly face the hurt and often angry feelings of your long-term, biological children.  Although each person’s sense of “family” may be different, it’s very hard for some people to accept a parent’s introduction of a new adult into the realm of family inheritance rights without a sense of betrayal. If you’re going to take this step and adopt another adult, make sure you fully explain your intentions to your biological children in advance. At best, try to explain how you’re protecting their shares of your possessions that will still pass by way of a will or trust document;
  • If you’re adopting a same-sex partner, your opportunities to fully provide for that person upon your death may be changing.  As you may know, the U. S. Supreme Court recently overruled DOMA (The Defense of Marriage Act). If this is your main motivation for adopting another adult, you may be able to provide for your partner through marriage, now that more states are legalizing it for same-sex couples;
  • You may be threatening your ability to still adopt through your own biological parents. When you are adopted as the child of another adult, you are no longer a “legal member” of your birth family. Therefore, when your biological parents die, you will probably be unable to inherit from one or both of them. It’s critical for every person wanting to be adopted by another adult to fully discuss the consequences of this action with a Georgia estate planning attorney prior to going through this process;
  • As an adult adoptee, you may have to interact with your new adoptive “parent’s” various blood relatives in the future in regards to your inheritance rights. You can be sure that these individuals will not be happy about your appearance and the possibility that you may “rob them” of their entire inheritance --- or at least a very large portion of it. Later court battles are rather likely when you’re adopted as an adult;
  • Be careful if you’re adopting another adult to try and “safeguard” funds for a rather questionable purpose. In 2012, a Florida man allegedly adopted his girlfriend so she could become his heir or beneficiary -- at a time when he believed he would be sued in connection with a car accident. Don’t assume that all courts will turn a blind eye to any type of legal “sleight of hand.”

These are just some of the consequences you must consider if you want to adopt another adult – or allow another adult to adopt you. Although it may look like a fairly simple act, given how difficult it is to overturn any adoption, you may wind up causing yourself more headaches than you can imagine.