National Adoption Information Clearinghouse
Current through July 2003
What You Need to Know
Leaving a will is the best way to ensure heirs or descendants may inherit from your estate. Issues of property distribution may arise when a birth parent or adoptive parent dies without making a valid will or without naming an heir to particular property (referred to as "intestacy"). In these cases, State law determines who may inherit from whom. All 50 States and the Territories of the United States specify an adopted child's rights of inheritance from and through the adoptive and biological parents.
Birth Parents and Adopted Children
Generally, the court decree that finalizes the adoption ends the legal relationship between the biological parent (also referred to as the "birth" or "natural" parent throughout this document) and adopted child. There are, however, exceptions to this policy in some States. For example, Alaska and Idaho provide for a continuation of inheritance rights if stated in the adoption decree. Colorado requires the adopted child to file a claim against the estate of the biological parent within 90 days of the parent's death. Illinois allows the biological parents to acquire from the adopted child's estate any property gained from them through gift, will, or under intestate laws (laws that govern the distribution of property when a person dies without a valid will). Adoption by the spouse of a biological parent has no effect on the right of a child to inherit from or through either biological parent.
Adoptive Parents and Adopted Children
The adopted child is treated by law as the natural child of the adopting parents, upon the entry of the final adoption decree. The adopted child, therefore, gains the right to inherit from the adoptive parents and adoptive parents' relatives. Adoptive parents also gain the right to inherit from their adopted child.