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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. Call it unauthorized law if you must, a regulatory wrong, but it was fraud and theft well beyond that, a seeming crime! "In three specific cases, the hearing officer found that Westerfield did little to no work for her clients but only issued a partial refund or no refund at all." That is theft by deception, folks. "In its decision to suspend Westerfield, the Supreme Court noted that she already had a long disciplinary history dating back to 1996 and had previously been suspended in 2004 and indefinitely suspended in 2005. She was reinstated in 2009 after finally giving the commission a response to the grievance for which she was suspended in 2004." WOW -- was the Indiana Supreme Court complicit in her fraud? Talk about being on notice of a real bad actor .... "Further, the justices noted that during her testimony, Westerfield was “disingenuous and evasive” about her relationship with Tope and attempted to distance herself from him. They also wrote that other aggravating factors existed in Westerfield’s case, such as her lack of remorse." WOW, and yet she only got 18 months on the bench, and if she shows up and cries for them in a year and a half, and pays money to JLAP for group therapy ... back in to ride roughshod over hapless clients (or are they "marks") once again! Aint Hoosier lawyering a great money making adventure!!! Just live for the bucks, even if filthy lucre, and come out a-ok. ME on the other hand??? Lifetime banishment for blowing the whistle on unconstitutional governance. Yes, had I ripped off clients or had ANY disciplinary history for doing that I would have fared better, most likely, as that it would have revealed me motivated by Mammon and not Faith. Check it out if you doubt my reading of this, compare and contrast the above 18 months with my lifetime banishment from court, see appendix for Bar Examiners report which the ISC adopted without substantive review: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS

  2. Wow, over a quarter million dollars? That is a a lot of commissary money! Over what time frame? Years I would guess. Anyone ever try to blow the whistle? Probably not, since most Hoosiers who take notice of such things realize that Hoosier whistleblowers are almost always pilloried. If someone did blow the whistle, they were likely fired. The persecution of whistleblowers is a sure sign of far too much government corruption. Details of my own personal experience at the top of Hoosier governance available upon request ... maybe a "fake news" media outlet will have the courage to tell the stories of Hoosier whistleblowers that the "real" Hoosier media (cough) will not deign to touch. (They are part of the problem.)

  3. So if I am reading it right, only if and when African American college students agree to receive checks labeling them as "Negroes" do they receive aid from the UNCF or the Quaker's Educational Fund? In other words, to borrow from the Indiana Appellate Court, "the [nonprofit] supposed to be [their] advocate, refers to [students] in a racially offensive manner. While there is no evidence that [the nonprofits] intended harm to [African American students], the harm was nonetheless inflicted. [Black students are] presented to [academia and future employers] in a racially offensive manner. For these reasons, [such] performance [is] deficient and also prejudice[ial]." Maybe even DEPLORABLE???

  4. I'm the poor soul who spent over 10 years in prison with many many other prisoners trying to kill me for being charged with a sex offense THAT I DID NOT COMMIT i was in jail for a battery charge for helping a friend leave a boyfriend who beat her I've been saying for over 28 years that i did not and would never hurt a child like that mine or anybody's child but NOBODY wants to believe that i might not be guilty of this horrible crime or think that when i say that ALL the paperwork concerning my conviction has strangely DISAPPEARED or even when the long beach judge re-sentenced me over 14 months on a already filed plea bargain out of another districts court then had it filed under a fake name so i could not find while trying to fight my conviction on appeal in a nut shell people are ALWAYS quick to believe the worst about some one well I DID NOT HURT ANY CHILD EVER IN MY LIFE AND HAVE SAID THIS FOR ALMOST 30 YEARS please if anybody can me get some kind of justice it would be greatly appreciated respectfully written wrongly accused Brian Valenti

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