How are Adopted Children Treated When It Comes to Inheritance?

When it comes to inheritance, it’s a question that’s often asked. How are adopted children treated under Tennessee laws when their parents die?  The biggest issue generally surfaces when the child’s mother or father passes away without a will or trust document in place.

First, some wonder whether an adopted child can inherit money or property from his or her biological parents. The only way that can occur is if the birth parent makes such allowances in an estate plan.  Otherwise, the child has no right to claim any part of the estate.

Tennessee law specifically addresses what happens in the event that a parent dies without a will. According to TN Code § 31-2-105 (2018), “an adopted person is the child of an adopting parent and not of the natural parent.”

The only exception to this assertion is that the “adoption of a child by the spouse of a natural parent has no effect on the relationship between the child and that natural parent.” 

Take for example, the story of John. He has no idea who his birth parents are, as he was adopted as an infant by Sue and David. His adoptive parents are the only mother and father he’s ever known in his life. Although there’s no biological relationship, their bond is strong.

John is a young adult when both his parents are killed in an automobile accident. Unfortunately, neither left behind a Last Will and Testament. However, there is considerable money in the estate and John has every right to inherit from it.

Adopted Children are Treated Like Natural Children

TN Code § 31-1-101 (2018) provides some further insight as far as adopted children. It defines a “child” as an individual, adopted or natural born, entitled to take as a child under this title by intestate succession from the parent whose relationship is involved.

 Notably, stepchildren, foster children and grandchildren are excluded from the definition when it comes to inheritance when no will specifies distribution of an estate.

Another important term is “issue.” While it might strike you as an unusual term, it refers to lineal descendants, whether they come from natural born members of a family or adopted ones.  

What does this mean exactly? Referring back to John, he and his offspring are considered the same as though John was born to his adoptive parents.

In our example, both of John’s parents died in an automobile accident. If John is an only child, he would be entitled to all of their estates. Meanwhile, if Sue and David had natural children, John would split the proceeds of the estate with them.

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The best way of ensuring your estate is divided in accordance with your wishes is to set up an estate plan. Contact MHPS to see how we can help you.

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