Family Law

Can You Adopt an Adult?

By Kristina Otterstrom, Attorney
Learn more about adopting someone over the age of 18.

When most people think of adoption, they picture an infant or young child in need of care throughout childhood and adolescence. Rarely, do we picture an adult being adopted. Adult adoption exists but it’s only permissible under special circumstances. If you're adopting an adult—or seeking to be adopted—for fraudulent purposes, a court will prevent the adoption from going through. However, a guardian for an adult with special needs or a biological parent may have reasons for pursuing an adoption of an adult.

Why Would Someone Adopt an Adult?

Adoption creates legal privileges and can solidify family bonds. For example, an adult who recently located a birth parent may seek an adoption to make those family ties official. Any previous legal ties to an adoptive parent will be severed through any later adoption(s) and a court will order a new birth certificate for the adopted adult. Some other instances where an adult adoption might occur include:

  • a former foster child being adopted by a previous foster family
  • step-child adoption
  • adopting a mentally incapacitated or severely disabled adult, or
  • adopting an adult for inheritance purposes.

In each of these situations, a judge will assess the prospective parents’ reasons for the adoption. For example, a foster family may have formed a strong bond with a foster child who was not previously available for adoption. A later adoption may affirm the strong relationship that the family and now adult adoptee have formed. Additionally, an individual may adopt a mentally incapacitated adult to be able to provide consistent care, make medical decisions on the affected adult's behalf, and to preserve inheritance rights.

When Would a Court Deny an Adult Adoption?

Different states have different rules for adult adoptions. For example, Utah law requires the prospective adoptive parent to be at least 10 years older than the adoptee. In Arizona, an adult must be under the age of 21 to be adopted. A judge will deny the adoption if the adoptee doesn't meet the required criteria.

A judge will also review all aspects of the relationship between the adoptive parent and adoptee. For example, you can’t adopt an adult with whom you’ve had a sexual relationship. Also, the adoption can’t be for fraudulent purposes. Specifically, a rich elderly woman suffering from Alzheimer’s won’t be allowed to adopt a young, twenty-something who appears to be eyeing her fortune.

How to Begin the Adoption Process

Before starting the adoption process, it’s important to understand your state's laws. If your proposed adoption doesn’t meet your state’s requirements, there’s no reason to spend the time and effort into pursuing it. You’ll begin the adoption process by filing a petition (written request) for adoption with the court. Other requirements will depend on where you live and the type of adoption you pursue. An experienced attorney can help you understand the ins and outs of adult adoption in your state and how to proceed.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • I’m a former foster parent and my former foster daughter is now 22 and wants to be adopted by our family. Can I adopt her?
  • Will my stepchild be able to inherit from me without me formally adopting him?
  • My niece is a disabled adult, and her parents recently passed away. I was named as her guardian in their will. Do I need to go through a formal adoption process?
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