‘My biological father abandoned me’: I was adopted by my maternal grandparents when my mom died. Do I have legal claims on my father’s estate?
I was born out of wedlock in the mid-1960s.
My biological father was not listed on my original birth certificate. My birth mother died when I was a tot, and I was then adopted by my maternal grandparents. I didn’t even know the circumstances of my birth until I was a teenager.
My biological father abandoned me and my mother. I met him as a young adult and have since lost contact, as he is avoiding me for some reason. Do I have any legal claims to any possible inheritance when he does eventually pass away?
Abandoned and Adopted Son
Discovering that you had a father you never knew about must have come as a shock to you, and it must have taken great courage to seek him out. Unfortunately, there’s no accounting for other people’s behavior, including that of one’s parents. As to your question, it’s complicated, and the answer will vary by state. It also depends on the forensic circumstances of your case.
Leaving aside his potential reasons for not maintaining contact, your father could end up including you in his will. That would obviously be the easiest way to ensure you inherited a share of his estate. The opposite, of course, is also true. He could make efforts to exclude you from his will, if he believed you were interested in an inheritance and preserve the shares of other heirs.
Generally — but not always — the inheritance rights of a child to claim a share of his or her biological parents’ estate are irrevocably severed when he or she is adopted. That said, the adopted child is entitled to a share of their adoptive parents’ estate equal to those of their siblings, regardless of whether those siblings are adopted or biological children.
“Generally, the inheritance rights of a child to claim a share of his or her biological parents’ estate is severed when they are adopted.”
There was a highly unusual case in New York in 2005, where a woman, Mildred Murphy, specifically bequeathed money and a cottage by a lake to her biological son, Arthur, who was subsequently known as Clair Willard Manning in his adopted family, and cash to his two children. But Arthur/Clair predeceased his biological mother by 11 months.
The Court of Appeals ruled that when Mildred named her son in her will, he was no longer a legal stranger. “We therefore conclude that when Mildred Murphy named her adopted-out son Clair as a beneficiary of her will, she triggered the condition in §117(2) that made him a non-stranger, and thus her issue, with respect to the relevant bequest,” the ruling said.
In California, adoption similarly severs the legal relationship between the biological parent and their child. But there are exceptions — namely, if the biological parent and adopted child lived together as parent and child, or the biological parent in question was cohabiting or married to the other biological parent at the time the child was conceived, and died before the child’s birth.
“The law on the rights of adoptees to inherit from their biological parents’ estate differs from California and New York to Texas.”
In Texas, the law is different again, and would appear to be in your favor. “Section 161.2061, an order terminating the parent-child relationship divests the parent and the child of all legal rights and duties with respect to each other, except that the child retains the right to inherit from and through the parent unless the court otherwise provides.”
As the Willi Law Firm in Austin, Texas, states: “While adoption records are sealed in Texas, if an adopted child is able to determine the identity of his birth parents and the parental rights termination order does not preclude inheritance rights, that child will be in line for inheritance from the birth parents.” This could be done by obtaining an affidavit or certificate of heirship.
Your father was not aware you were adopted, but he did abandon you and your mother prior to your adoption. Consult an estate lawyer in your state to determine the viability of any claim succeeding. Depending on where you live, your case could set a legal precedent like the estate of Mildred Murphy or, far more likely, you could embark on a costly and, ultimately, futile legal process.
If your biological father does not wish to have a relationship with you, that’s a choice you will ultimately have to accept. If he suspects that you want more from the relationship than the opportunity to get to know him, odds are that that would close any remaining doors. I hope your maternal grandparents gave you what you needed to embark on a happy, fulfilling life.
Your emotional and financial independence is a bequest that no amount of money can buy.
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