Legal adoptions provide adopted children the same rights as their adoptive parent’s biological children. This same tenet continues through in intestate succession. So, if a parent dies without a will or surviving spouse, the estate is divided equally between the parent’s biological and adopted children.
However, things do not necessarily work in reverse. And, because individuals have the right to leave their estate to any heirs or beneficiaries they choose, this doesn’t mean adopted, or biological children always split things evenly.
Estate Laws & Adopted Children: Who Gets What?
Creating a will or trust with a licensed estate planning lawyer is the best way to ensure your estate or assets are distributed to particular individuals in the amounts of your choosing. Without that, the entire estate goes into probate. There, things may get complicated, especially if family members – biological, fostered, legal wards, and adopted are in disagreement.
Keep in mind that a well-prepared and legal estate plan trumps intestate succession laws. People can leave their assets and estates to anyone they choose, biologically related or not.
FAQs About CA Inheritance Rights for Adoptees
Here is a list of frequently asked questions about wills, trusts, and estate plans when there is a mix of adopted and biological children.
Do adopted children Have The Same inheritance Rights As biological children?
Yes. California intestate succession laws hold legally adopted children equal to the adopted parents’ biological children. So, if you are adopted and have three siblings biologically related to your adopted parents, intestate succession laws ensure you get one-fourth of the estate.
Do adopted children automatically inherit from their biological parents?
No, not necessarily.
Legal adoptions usually terminate the legal obligations of parents to a child, including terminating the rights to your biological parents’ estates (or their relatives’ estates). So, if you’re legally adopted, and your birth parent’s estate goes into probate, you may not have a claim over any of their assets.
There are exceptions:
- The biological parent’s will/estate was created before the adopted child was born and never updated. In that case, the court may decide to grant a portion of the estate to a biological child adopted by someone else.
- The child and biological parents lived together as parent/child for a length of time.
- The adoptive parent was the spouse of either of the biological parents OR the spouse adopted the child after the biological parent’s death.
Can an adopted child inherit from a biological relative?
Yes, if a biological relative wants to leave money, assets, and heirlooms to a child given away for adoption. Any beneficiaries or heirs must be clearly stated in a legal will or trust. Otherwise, intestate succession presides, and verbal promises won’t hold in court.
What happens if an adopted child is not mentioned in the adoptive parent’s will or trust?
If the will or trust was created prior to the child’s adoption, and never updated, the courts take that into consideration. However, in most cases, especially if asset distributions were relatively even among other children, the court would rule for even re-distribution that includes any adopted child.
If the will was created after a child was adopted, and there is no clear reason why the adopted child was left out of the will, the judge may award an appropriate amount to the adopted child(ren).
What about step-children?
Step-children are also viewed by the courts as equal or near-equal to biological or adopted children, especially if they have been in a relationship with the step-parent since they were children or for a significant amount of time.
Estate planning is essential for any family, but blended families should place even more emphasis on creating sold estate plans. The alternative can become a probate nightmare as biological siblings (and, in some cases, ex-spouses) battle for what they feel heirs/beneficiaries do and don’t deserve.
What should we do if there’s tension between our biological and adopted children?
If you know tension or tense sentiments exist between biological and adopted (or step-children), and you want an equitable distribution of assets, schedule a consult with an estate planning attorney ASAP. Well-written estate plans rarely lead to any lengthy debate in probate court. Instead, the court almost always upholds the tenets of the estate plan.
However, there are things you can do to minimize friction between children who feel they have varying degrees of inheritance rights:
- Work with a professional estate planning lawyer and revisit the estate plan regularly to address any changes in the family dynamic (marriages, deaths, maturing into adulthood, divorces, etc.).
- Try to avoid favoritism whenever possible.
- While not necessary, it’s helpful to clearly state reasons why there is any unequal division of assets. For example, “we paid $75,000 to support child’s X rehab bills and are deducting that from his final inheritance.” That can mitigate siblings’ fights and provide the court with sound reasoning to support their final decisions.
- While it may not be comfortable, it might be wise to have a family meeting to discuss anything in the will/trust you know might trigger conflict. In some cases, you might share the estate plan with all of your heirs, so they’re prepared. If you feel that might do more harm than good, your estate attorney can let you know which things are worth sharing with heirs and which the attorney will handle after you die.
Are You Making Estate Plans That Include Adopted Children?
Are you preparing to make estate plans that include adopted children or individuals you hold as children even though there’s no biological relationship? Or, are you an adopted child that feels you have a right to an inheritance or assets you didn’t receive after the death of your parents? Schedule a consultation with Tseng Law Firm. We’ll make the process as simple as possible and put together a tightly-woven estate plan that fulfills all of your intentions and avoids unnecessary probate complications.