Are Inheritance Rules Different for Adopted Children?

15 May 2018

For children who have been legally adopted, exactly the same inheritance rules apply as do for biological children. If there is no Will, then they are entitled to inherit in the same way as biological children under inheritance rules. If there is a Will but they have been omitted they can make a claim against the Estate, just as a biological child could.

Can Adopted Children Also Inherit from their Biological Parents?

Previously, once a child had been adopted out of a family, they were no longer entitled to inherit from the Estate(s) of their biological parent(s).

However, a new law was recently introduced which alters how some adopted children may be entitled to inherit. The new law applies to children born after 2014 whose biological parent(s) died before they were adopted. These children may still be entitled to inherit from their biological parent's Estate under the new law.

How Do Inheritance Rules Work?

When someone dies what happens with their Estate is either determined by their Will or (if they didn’t leave one) it is determined by the Rules of Intestacy.

A person’s Estate consists of everything they owned at the time of death. This can include money in bank accounts, a house, vehicles, stocks and shares amongst other things.

The Rules of Intestacy place family members in order of who has legal authority to administer the Estate and also who is due to receive an inheritance from the Estate. The Rules of Intestacy are ordered as follows:

  1. Spouse or civil partner
  2. Children (or their children if they are predeceased)
  3. Parents
  4. Brothers and sisters (or their children)
  5. Half brothers and sisters (or their children)
  6. Grandparents
  7. Aunts and uncles (or their children)
  8. Half aunts and uncles (or their children)
  9. The Crown

Under these rules, legally adopted children are treated in exactly the same way as biological children. However, if the adoption is not legally recognised, then the child may not be entitled to inherit from their adopted parents’ Estates.

So to put the Rules of Intestacy into context; if someone had no surviving spouse or civil partner when they died but they had children, their Estate would be distributed equally between their children.

If there was a surviving spouse or civil partner, the children would only inherit if the value of this was over £250,000. 

Under the Rules of Intestacy, all children of the deceased inherit equally. This is regardless of if they are adopted or if they are children from different relationships.

When are Children Excluded under the Rules of Intestacy?

Only biological or legally adopted children can inherit under the Rules of Intestacy. Therefore this excludes step-children that have not been legally adopted. It also excludes foster children or children that may be in the process of being legally adopted.

Providing for Children by Making a Will

If you have children and you want to ensure that they are provided for when you die, the best way to do this is to make a Will. This allows you to name the Beneficiaries and set out what you would like them to inherit, so your Estate can be dealt with in accordance with your wishes.

It is important to beware of using terms such as ‘my children’ in your Will as this would exclude step-children and any others who are not either biological or legally adopted. An invalid Will could mean that a step-child or unofficially adopted child misses out on their inheritance.

A recent high-profile case in the Supreme Court saw an unofficially adopted son lose out on his inheritance because his father’s Will was wrongly signed. The Will was therefore declared to be invalid by the Court.

To avoid the risk of your Will being incorrect or invalid, it’s always best to instruct a professional Will Writer. At Co-op Legal Services, our professional Will Writers can discuss your circumstances and draft a Will that’s tailored to you, so you know that the right people will be provided for after you’ve gone.

Co-op Legal Services is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

If someone has died and you need help with probate, contact us:

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