Finding Relatives Through DNA Testing: Adoption and Inheritance Rights

The recent popularity of DNA testing kits makes it possible to find relatives we never knew existed. Children who were given up for adoption, or “adopted out,” are now discovering siblings and half-siblings. They are finding parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins to whom they are biologically related. Apart from all of the other issues that this presents, it also raises a question as to what, if any, inheritance rights attach to these new relationships. The short answer is: It depends.


Generally, if a child is adopted by a non-family member, the birth parents are relieved of their parental duties and all future responsibilities toward the child. Once the adoption order is signed the birth parents and the adopted out child have no right of inheritance from or through each other. The new “adoptive” parents will have the legal relationship with the child and the parents and the child will secure the right to inherit from and through each other. The adopted child also has the right to inherit from his/her adoptive parents’ relatives.


Please note that there are some exceptions to the rule. If a child is adopted by a stepparent or a close family member, i.e. in an intra-family adoption by the child’s biological grandparent or a descendant of a biological grandparent (aunt, uncle, cousin), the child does not lose inheritance rights from or through his/her biological family and can still inherit from the birth parent and their family.


In most cases, if a parent creates a will, trust or other testamentary instruction (like a beneficiary designation), once a child is adopted out he or she loses the right to inherit from the birth parent. But, if the document expresses a contrary intention or specifically names the child, the child’s right may not be severed.


So how is this significant? When someone dies, heirs are ordinarily entitled to receive notice. For the most part, an adopted child is entitled to receive notice of the death of a member of their adoptive family but not their biological family. However, in limited cases, an adopted child maintains the right to inherit from biological parents and family members.


If you wish to ensure that your estate plan properly addresses your newly found relatives or the rights of your adopted or adopted out children, contact the Long Island Estate Planning and Elder Law attorneys at Berwitz & DiTata today.