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Adopting an Adult

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adult adoption n. The adoption of a person over the age of majority (as defined in State law).

Adult adoption was quite a common occurrence during the ancient/classical periods to carry on a dynasty, occupation, or family name; to care for a parent in old age; or to protect property rights.

Today, however, there are three main reasons people pursue the adoption of an adult person.

  • Inheritance. This is the most common reason for adult adoption, creating a parent-child relationship that will be legally recognized so that the adopted person can inherit from the adoptive parent(s).
  • Formalizing a parent-child relationship. When a previous stepparent-stepchild, foster parent-foster child, or informal parent-child relationship existed, the adult parties may want to formalize the relationship through adoption.
  • Perpetual Care. If the person to be adopted is of diminished capacity or abilities, adoption may provide a means of assuring him/her of lifetime care under family insurance, as a legal family member, or through inheritance.

Changes Effected by Adoption

In the same manner as child adoption, the adoption of an adult will result in changes.

  • Severing parental relationships. An adoption creates a new parent-child relationship and severs the existing relationship with biological parents (or with the non-custodial biological parent only, in the case of stepparent adult adoption).
  • New birth certificate. An amended birth certificate will be issued for the adopted person, showing the adoptive parent(s) as birth parents.
  • Name change. The surname (last name) of the adopted person may be changed to that of the adoptive parent(s).
  • Sealed records. Adoption records for adult adoptions appear to be treated the same as those for child adoptions in that the records pertaining to the adoption will be sealed according to state law, even though the parties to the adoption are adults and are aware of family details. If this is a matter of concern, parties to the adoption should keep copies of all documents relating to the adoption itself and life events prior to the adoption for safekeeping.

Note: If the only purpose for considering an adult adoption is to change the name of the person to be adopted, name changes are relatively simple procedures and can be done without severing parental rights of existing parents.

Governed by State Law

Adult adoption is handled differently in all states. Some state statutes only provide for adult adoption if the person to be adopted is of diminished capacity. Some states require the consent of the spouse of the person to be adopted (if married), some require notification of biological parent(s), and some require nothing more than the consent of the adult parties. Check state laws on adult adoption here.

More: Adult Adoption, from the Encyclopedia of Adoption


Information in this article refers to domestic U.S. adult adoption. For information on the adoption of an adult non-U.S. citizen, contact an immigration specialist. Information in this article does not constitute, and is not a substitute for, legal advice.
Visitor Comments (2)
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Steve - 6 months ago
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Thank you for the information. I found the information I needed in words I could understand, not in legaleeze. Thanks again. #1
carrie - 5 months ago
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When I turned 18 I legally changed my name to my step fathers name who has raised me since I was a baby. Due to my biological father not being present at my birth my mother gave me her last name and did not include the name of my biological father whom I have never known....I have since legally changed my name and would like to list my dads (stepfathers) name on the birth certificate. I was born in New Mexico and need to know how to go about updating my birth certificate. Can you tell me what I need to do to complete this. Thank you. #2
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