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Personal, practical reasons guide adult adoptions

Dave Stafford
July 16, 2014
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Children become consenting adults when they turn 18, but that’s also the age at which a few will seek to legally become someone’s son or daughter.

Adult adoptions are fairly rare, but they’re sought for a host of reasons from the sentimental to the sensible, family law attorneys say.

Indianapolis attorney Mary Jane Norman said the process usually makes the new parent and child “very, very, very happy.”

Norman recalled representing a client who wanted to adopt a foster child but a biological parent would not consent, even though the child had bonded with the foster parent and also wanted to be adopted.

For children in such a situation, Norman said, “It’s good that they know, as soon as they turn 18, (guardians) can adopt me and the parents can’t do a darn thing about it.” Norman said she had one case in which the adoption was formalized the day the child turned 18.

Indiana makes adult adoptions straightforward between consenting parties. Unlike some states, there’s no notice or consent requirement for biological parents, and judges have authority to grant the petition “with the consent of the individual acknowledged in open court,” according to I.C. 31-19-2-1.

“It’s practically the easiest thing that can be done in the legal profession,” said Dick Clem, an Indianapolis attorney who’s worked on four or five adult adoptions in his 41 years in the profession.

“I did one a while ago where a woman I think was 40 years old, and she always thought of her stepfather as her father her whole life,” Clem said. “She just wanted him to adopt her.”
 

Gerald Zore Zore

Marion Superior Probate Judge Gerald Zore said the petitions, like all other adoption matters, are confidential, but typically they aim to formalize a bond that exists between stepparents or foster parents and their children.

But there are more practical reasons, too. Denise Safford, adoption coordinator in Zore’s court, said that in the past two years about 3 percent of the more than 500 petitions filed annually have been from people seeking to adopt someone 18 or older.

“When it’s a stepparent and the adult being adopted is in their 40s or 50s, really the stepparent has been a parent figure to them for many years, and so the stepparent really wants to get it done, especially if they don’t have a will or don’t want to do a will,” Safford said.

In such a situation, there are implications for the stepchild, particularly if the adopting parent dies intestate. “If they’re adopted, they have the same rights of inheritance as a biological child,” she said.

Stepparents in some cases also may want to pursue adoption of their adult stepchildren to ensure grandparent visitation rights, Safford said.

Matthew Schoettmer is an attorney at Van Valer Law Firm LLP in Greenwood who also is an officer in the Indiana National Guard. As such, he fields the occasional legal inquiry from soldiers.


shoettmer-matt-mug Schoettmer

“One of the other soldiers in my unit came up to me and wanted to adopt his wife’s daughter so that she could benefit from his Veterans Administration educational benefits,” Schoettmer said. He was happy to oblige.

In that case, the girl’s biological father died when she was young. Her mother remarried the Guardsman, and the daughter grew up knowing her stepfather as her dad, Schoettmer said.

“They had never seen a legal need to have an adoption until she was going to go to college and (her stepfather) was going to give his GI Bill benefits to her,” he said. The VA limits those benefits to biological and adopted children.

But Schoettmer said his work accomplished more than that. The stepdaughter also obtained an amended birth certificate and changed her name to that of her stepfather, “so that she could identify with him and say, ‘This man is my father.’ … It helped give them a piece of paper to show to the rest of the world they were a family, and more than just stepfather and stepdaughter.”

Indianapolis attorney Travis Van Winkle recalled a client who sought an adoption as an adult from a friend who wasn’t much older to escape biological parents who abused and tormented her even after she came of age. The woman changed her name and moved across the country.

Van Winkle recalled another case in which an elderly woman adopted a longtime friend who became a caregiver so that person could inherit from the woman’s trust.

Greenfield attorney Sarah Wolf said there are good reasons why someone would want to be adopted when they turn 18, but she counseled caution. If a guardian sought to adopt a child at that age, the child could lose any claim to future educational benefits from his or her biological parents. Likewise, some attorneys say, adults who are adopted run the risk of forfeiting any claim to inheritance from their biological parents.

Inheritance considerations in the past have motivated some adult adoptions. Since the estate tax in Indiana was abolished last year, that’s less of a consideration than it once was, but it’s still a factor.

Indianapolis attorney Marc Matheny noted that an adult adoption is a good way to guarantee that even if a will is thrown out for any reason, the adopted child will have a right to inherit.

Matheny recalled a case in his practice that was as personal as practical. An elderly woman who never married adopted a priest who was close to her. The adoption was partly for inheritance purposes, but also because, “She always wanted a son who was a priest,” he said.•

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  1. I gave tempparry guardship to a friend of my granddaughter in 2012. I went to prison. I had custody. My daughter went to prison to. We are out. My daughter gave me custody but can get her back. She was not order to give me custody . but now we want granddaughter back from friend. She's 14 now. What rights do we have

  2. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  3. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

  4. Here's an idea...how about we MORE heavily regulate the law schools to reduce the surplus of graduates, driving starting salaries up for those new grads, so that we can all pay our insane amount of student loans off in a reasonable amount of time and then be able to afford to do pro bono & low-fee work? I've got friends in other industries, radiology for example, and their schools accept a very limited number of students so there will never be a glut of new grads and everyone's pay stays high. For example, my radiologist friend's school accepted just six new students per year.

  5. I totally agree with John Smith.

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