A client came to my office to handle their mom’s probate estate, who did not leave a Will. During the course of the estate, it came to my attention that my client had a sister who had moved away and was adopted by her step-parent. The sister contacted me and I had to let the sister know that she was not entitled to any part of the estate based on that adoption. This is not an uncommon problem. In fact, 6 in 10 Americans have had personal experience with adoption, whether that be directly, or through a family member.
Like creating your estate plan, adopting a child is a completely unselfish act and is an opportunity to provide that child with a better life. Adoptions can occur in many different forms. They can be international or domestic, it can go through a state agency or a private agency, and adoptions could be for a child you’ve never met, or possibly a step-parent adoption.
With regards to the estate planning aspects, I’d just like to touch quickly on how a child may be viewed by the law. If a child is legally adopted, that child is treated as a direct heir of the adopting parent(s), just like a child naturally born of the parent. However, like what my client’s sister experienced, this does remove all legal rights that child would have had with their biological parents. Many times the loss of those rights does not matter, but it would matter in a step-parent adoption if the biological parents die after the adoption takes place and the child was left out of their estate plan.
On the other side of the coin, if you have a step-child and don’t properly create your estate plan and/or go through the actual adoption process then if something happens to you, this child that you’ve grown to love, and invested so much time raising, will be completely left out of your estate. Whether a person is adopting a child, or has their own child adopted by someone else, it’s important to address this in the overall estate plan.
If you want to learn a little more about the adoption process, I’ve asked an excellent attorney, Lisa Hansen, who handles adoptions, to provide a little more information for you. Hope this is helpful. If you’d like to contact her, feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Different Types of Adoption Agencies: There are many different types of adoptions. There is grandparent adoption, step-parent adoptions, and embryo adoptions to name a few. However, the most common adoptions are done through state agencies, private agencies, and attorneys who handle adoptions.
State Agencies: In Missouri, the state agency to adopt a child through is the Missouri Department of Social Services. You can become an adoptive parent by first becoming a foster parent or you can apply to be an adoptive parent from the start. Although you can get a newborn it is more common to have a child that has been in the system for a while. There is an adoption subsidy that you may be eligible for if you adopt through this method.
Private Agencies: There are many private adoption agencies both in the KC Metro area as well as nationwide that people can use to adopt a child. It will depend on how far reaching you want your search for a child to be as to what agency you use. Do careful research as to the agency you use. Make sure they have the proper credentials. Most agencies will have previous clients available to contact so that you can discuss the process with them and get feedback as to the agency.
Attorneys: There are attorneys that specialize in private adoptions. Not many attorneys do this type of law due to the number of agencies that now do adoptions. Again, check credentials and experience with handling this type of law.
Different types of adoption: Another aspect to keep in mind when choosing an agency is the openness of the adoption. There are basically three levels of disclosure: Open, Semi-Open and closed.
Open: This type of adoption is where the birth parents and the adoptive parents know who each other are and keep in contact throughout the child’s life. This could be monthly letters, phone calls, pictures, e-mails etc. It also usually involves regular meetings between the parents and the child. You will usually see this type of adoption when it is between family members.
Semi-Open: This is where the birth parents and adopted parents may meet at some point. There have been instances where the adoptive parents get to be in the delivery room. Usually, under this arrangement, the adoptive parents will send pictures and letters through the adoption agency to the birth parents. At this time there is no law in place in Missouri that makes this type of agreement binding. An adoptive parent can agree to exchange information but if they decide at some point, not to there is no recourse for the birth parent.
Closed: Under this scenario, the birth parent and adoptive parent never meet, they don’t know names, locations etc. There is no exchange of information or pictures of the child.