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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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  • Wonderful
    My husband and I met when my girls were tweenagers. My girls deadbeat biological fathers turned their backs on them and broke their hearts when they were quite young. We married when they were teenagers. We never pursued adoption because I thought it was too expensive and was concerned about their biological fathers upsetting them in a court room. Now we're older and our own parents have died so we are concerned about will, administrator and inheritance issues. Thank you for the information.

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  1. Looks like 2017 will be another notable year for these cases. I have a Grandson involved in a CHINS case that should never have been. He and the whole family are being held hostage by CPS and the 'current mood' of the CPS caseworker. If the parents disagree with a decision, they are penalized. I, along with other were posting on Jasper County Online News, but all were quickly warned to remove posts. I totally understand that some children need these services, but in this case, it was mistakes, covered by coorcement of father to sign papers, lies and cover-ups. The most astonishing thing was within 2 weeks of this child being placed with CPS, a private adoption agency was asking questions regarding child's family in the area. I believe a photo that was taken by CPS manager at the very onset during the CHINS co-ocerment and the intent was to make money. I have even been warned not to post or speak to anyone regarding this case. Parents have completed all requirements, met foster parents, get visitation 2 days a week, and still the next court date is all the way out till May 1, which gives them(CPS) plenty of to time make further demands (which I expect) No trust of these 'seasoned' case managers, as I have already learned too much about their dirty little tricks. If they discover that I have posted here, I expect they will not be happy and penalized parents again. Still a Hostage.

  2. They say it was a court error, however they fail to mention A.R. was on the run from the law and was hiding. Thus why she didn't receive anything from her public defender. Step mom is filing again for adoption of the two boys she has raised. A.R. is a criminal with a serious heroin addiction. She filed this appeal MORE than 30 days after the final decision was made from prison. Report all the facts not just some.

  3. Hysteria? Really Ben? Tell the young lady reported on in the link below that worrying about the sexualizing of our children is mere hysteria. Such thinking is common in the Royal Order of Jesters and other running sex vacays in Thailand or Brazil ... like Indy's Jared Fogle. Those tempted to call such concerns mere histronics need to think on this: http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/a-12-year-old-girl-live-streamed-her-suicide-it-took-two-weeks-for-facebook-to-take-the-video-down/ar-AAlT8ka?li=AA4ZnC&ocid=spartanntp

  4. This is happening so much. Even in 2016.2017. I hope the father sue for civil rights violation. I hope he sue as more are doing and even without a lawyer as pro-se, he got a good one here. God bless him.

  5. I whole-heartedly agree with Doug Church's comment, above. Indiana lawyers were especially fortunate to benefit from Tom Pyrz' leadership and foresight at a time when there has been unprecedented change in the legal profession. Consider how dramatically computer technology and its role in the practice of law have changed over the last 25 years. The impact of the great recession of 2008 dramatically changed the composition and structure of law firms across the country. Economic pressures altered what had long been a routine, robust annual recruitment process for law students and recent law school graduates. That has, in turn, impacted law school enrollment across the country, placing upward pressure on law school tuition. The internet continues to drive significant changes in the provision of legal services in both public and private sectors. The ISBA has worked to make quality legal representation accessible and affordable for all who need it and to raise general public understanding of Indiana laws and procedures. How difficult it would have been to tackle each of these issues without Tom's leadership. Tom has set the tone for positive change at the ISBA to meet the evolving practice needs of lawyers of all backgrounds and ages. He has led the organization with vision, patience, flexibility, commitment, thoughtfulness & even humor. He will, indeed, be a tough act to follow. Thank you, Tom, for all you've done and all the energy you've invested in making the ISBA an excellent, progressive, highly responsive, all-inclusive, respectful & respected professional association during his tenure there.

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