Forthcoming Papers

The Inconsistent Inheritance Rights of Adult Adoptees and a Proposal for Uniformity

Jackie Messler


As summarized by the comparison of laws in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota, the inheritance rights of adult adoptees vary across jurisdictions. The inheritance rights of an adult adoptee will depend on the status of the stranger-to-the-adoption rule in the jurisdiction, the age limitations for inheritance in the jurisdiction, and whether there is any language granting or restricting inheritance rights in the testamentary documents. The majority of the time, the goal of the adoption is to make the person a genuine member of the family. As it stands, states do not uniformly treat adult adoptees as genuine members of the family. A default rule that uniformly recognizes the adoptee’s inheritance rights is generally in line with the adoptor’s motivation for the adoption. Three proposals may help to remedy the inconsistent adoption rights across jurisdictions: First, “family” should be defined by looking at the functional role each member plays, as opposed to using marital status to define “family” and to determine the benefits that accompany that status through marriage. Second, allowing a person to designate his or her heir is a partial solution for partners that are prevented from adopting or for partners who are discouraged from adopting by the awkward parent–child relationship that would result from the adoption. Third, a uniform law that gives an adult adoptee the status of a natural child of the adoptor, without any age limits, would ensure the equal treatment of adult adoptees across the country.