Estate Planning Attorneys Fighting for the Rights of Adopted Children
In the United States, the inheritance rights of adopted children are established by state law, and this is one area where the law varies significantly from state to state. The following is an overview of Wisconsin’s inheritance laws as they apply to adopted children:
Wisconsin’s Inheritance Laws for Adopted Children
Under Wisconsin law, the general rule is that an adopted child is treated as the biological child of his or her adoptive parents for purposes of inheritance. Similarly, adoptive parents are treated as the biological parents of the adopted child. However, it is important to note that each of these is the case only if at least one of the three following circumstances applies:
- “The decedent . . . is the adoptive parent or adopted child;”
- “The adopted person was a minor at the time of adoption;” or,
- “The adoptive parent raised the adopted person in a parent-like relationship beginning on or before the child’s 15th birthday and lasting for a substantial period or until adulthood.”
This is not quite as complicated as it sounds. For instance, if the child was a minor (under age 18) at the time of adoption, then he or she is treated as a biological child of the adoptive parents for all inheritance-related purposes. It is only in the case of an adult adoption that the other two conditions come into play. Individuals who are adopted as adults can inherit from their adoptive parents only (and vice versa), unless a parent-like relationship existed prior to the formal adoption – in which case the adoptee is given the same rights as a minor adoptee.
In each of these scenarios, the inheritance rights between the adopted child and his or her biological parents terminate at the time of adoption.
Of course, many adoptions involve special circumstances, and in these cases special laws may apply. For example:
- If the parent-child relationship between a child and only one biological parent is replaced by adoption, there is no termination of rights vis-à-vis the child and the parent whose relationship is not replaced.
- If a stepparent adopts a minor child upon the remarried birth parent’s death, the child retains his or her inheritance rights through the deceased parent.
Once again, however, these are just general rules – the law recognizes various exceptions that can apply under different personal and family circumstances.
Biological Children’s Inheritance Rights in Wisconsin
When an adopted child is treated the same as a biological child for inheritance purposes, the following are the general rules that apply:
- If the adoptive parent is unmarried: The deceased parent’s children inherit all estate assets.
- If the adoptive parent is married: The deceased parent’s spouse inherits one-half of his or her separate property, and the children inherit the other half plus the deceased parent’s share of community property.
The Importance of Estate Planning
Keep in mind that all of these rules can be overruled by a person’s estate plan. While everyone should have an estate plan, putting together a clear and well-crafted plan can be particularly important for adoptees and adoptive parents. With laws varying from state to state and the potential for disputes among biological and adoptive family members during the probate process, having a sound estate plan in place can be critical to ensuring that your loved ones benefit from your estate on your desired terms.
Disclaimer: This Article Is Not Legal Advice.
Never rely on an article for legal advice as the law frequently changes, information may not be accurate, there may be exceptions to a rule, and reliance may be detrimental. Always consult one of our experienced attorneys for competent, current, and accurate legal advice.
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