Adult Adoption Laws

Adult adoption can occur for several reasons. Some reasons include formalizing a relationship with a stepchild or helping someone with disabilities.

Most adoptions involve babies and children under the age of majority (generally 18 years of age). But most states also allow for the adoption of adults

The following provides a general primer on adult adoption laws, including examples of state adoption laws.

Adult Adoption Defined

Adult adoption is a type of adoption where an older adult legally adopts a younger adult. The adoption establishes a parent-child relationship between them.

Adult adoption is also different from guardianship. Legal guardianship is intended to safeguard and provide for a disabled adult. Guardians can make legal, financial, and health decisions on the person's behalf.

Adoption agencies rarely, if ever, play a role in adult adoptions.

Reasons for Adopting an Adult

Adult adoption is uncommon, but the legal arrangement can provide important benefits. Adult adoption is generally done for the following reasons:

  1. Inheritance rights
  2. Formalizing an existing parental relationship
  3. Perpetual care for a disabled adult
  4. Birth family

One of the most common reasons to adopt an adult is for inheritance. The adopted person has the same legal relationship as biological heirs. The adoptee can inherit from those who die without a will. Adult adoption provides more protection for those who die with a valid will in place if anyone contests the will.

In other instances, an adult may formalize the parent-child relationship with a stepparent or former foster parent. This may include a name change. Of course, the adoption also affects the adoptee's inheritance rights.

Adult adoption can also help a disabled or mentally challenged adult get needed care. For instance, someone who adopts a developmentally disabled adult may add them to their health insurance coverage, make important decisions on their behalf, and ensure through inheritance that they're covered financially after the adoptive parent dies.

Finally, after finding their birth family, an adult adoptee may choose to be adopted by the family of origin. Adult adoption can also help when fathers connect with children they didn't know they had.

State Adult Adoption Laws

State laws govern the conditions and availability of adult adoption. Some states forbid it. If allowed, adult adoption generally requires proof of a parent-child relationship or a specified age difference between the adoptive parent(s) and the adoptee.

If you're considering the adoption of an adult, you'll want to take a closer look at the laws of your state. The following is a sampling of state adult adoption laws:

  • California — Petition must state the length and nature of the parties' relationship; degree of kinship (if applicable); reason the adoption is sought; a statement about why the adoption would be in the best interests of the parties involved; names/addresses of any living birth parents or adult children of proposed adoptee; and information about any previous adult adoptions.
  • Kentucky — Anyone 18 or older may be adopted "in the same manner as provided by law for the adoption of a child and with the same legal effect" as long as the adult adoptee gives consent.
  • New Jersey — Adopting parent(s) must be at least 10 years older than the adoptee and consent to the adoption in writing and (if desired) a name change.
  • Ohio — An adult may be adopted if the adult is "totally or permanently disabled," determined to have an intellectual disability, has an established parent-child relationship with the adoptive parent, is a former foster child over 18, or if the adoption is by a stepparent.
  • Wyoming — An adult may be adopted if the adopting parent was a stepparent, grandparent, other blood relative, foster parent, or legal guardian who participated in raising the adoptee when they were a child and the adult consents to the adoption.

Adult Adoption Process

Adult adoption involves several legal procedural steps. The process, in most instances, includes:

  1. Consultation with an attorney: Before starting the adoption process, consult with an experienced adoption attorney who specializes in adult adoptions. They can guide you through the legal requirements, help you understand the family laws in your state, and ensure a smooth adoption process.
  2. Filing a petition: The first step in adult adoption is filing a petition with the appropriate court. The petition typically outlines the nature of the existing relationship, the reasons for seeking adoption, and any other relevant details required by the state. It is important to provide accurate and comprehensive information to strengthen your case. Often, the necessary documents are available from the courthouse. Submit the paperwork according to the instructions.
  3. Consent and notifications: You need consent from the person doing the adoption and the person being adopted. If the adoptee is married, the spouse's consent is also required. Once a person becomes an adult, there are no parental rights to end, so you don't need consent from biological parents for adult adoption. But in some states, you must notify the parents of the adoption. Unlike adopting a child, family members rarely get involved in an adult adoption.
  4. Background checks and home studies: Home studies aren't necessary for adult adoptions.
  5. Court approval: Once all the necessary steps have been completed, the court will review the adoption petition. The court will assess the adoption case's suitability, consider the adoptee's best interests, and make a final determination. Some states require a hearing. Most hearings are short, lasting about 10 or 15 minutes. The hearing may be via videoconferencing. The hearings are in family law or probate court. If approved, a court order will be issued. The adoption order legally establishes the parent-child relationship between the adoptive parent(s) and the adoptee. The court issues a new birth certificate. The birth certificate will list the new legal parents. It's important to note that existing legal relationships with biological or custodial parents are terminated. The adopted adult is free to change their last name.

The process generally takes about 90 days. The adoption record will be sealed.

Reasons a Court Might Reject an Adult Adoption

One of the most common reasons a court rejects an adult adoption is a sexual relationship between the two parties. Adoption creates a legal parent/child relationship, so a judge will not approve an adoption involving a sexual relationship.

The court might reject an adoption if it suspects fraud. For example, if someone asks a wealthy individual to adopt them so they can inherit the rich person's property. If the court believes the adopting party doesn't fully consent to or understand the adoption, they will likely reject it as fraudulent.

Any fraud, even if it's just an allegation, will likely stop an adult adoption.

Adult Adoption Costs

Adult adoption costs range from $800 to $3,000.

Have Questions About Adult Adoption Laws? Talk to a Lawyer

If you're considering adopting an adult, you'll want to understand your state's laws. An experienced adoption law attorney can provide legal advice and walk you through the procedure, ensuring it goes as smoothly as possible.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • It is a good idea to have an attorney for complex adoptions
  • An attorney can ensure you meet all legal requirements and that your adoption is finalized appropriately
  • An attorney can help protect the best interests of adoptive children, adoptive families, and birth parents
  • For simple adoptions, you may be able to do the paperwork on your own or by using an agency

Get tailored advice at any point in the adoption process. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

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Don't Forget About Estate Planning

Adopting a child is an ideal time to create or change your estate planning forms. Take the time to add new beneficiaries to your will and name a guardian for any minor children. Consider creating a financial power of attorney so your agent can pay bills and make sure your children are provided for. A health care directive explains your health care decisions and takes the decision-making burden off your children when they become adults.

Start Planning