Tennessee law defines “Adoption” as “the social and legal process of establishing by court order, other than by paternity or legitimation proceedings or by voluntary acknowledgment of paternity, the legal relationship of parent and child.”1
All adoptions share a common goal: to legally recognize a parent-child relationship. But the path to this goal is unique to each situation’s personal and delicate circumstances. Whether it be through local adoptions or global ones, within one’s own family or adopting a child the parents have never met – each adoption story and process is uniquely tailored to address the needs of the families. The methods people use to adopt can be as versatile as the reasons people desire to adopt.
The archetypal adoption involves two adult parents adopting a child to become a family and to provide a home for the child. However, a less conventional form of adoption is adult adoption. An adult adoption describes the practice whereby an individual over the age of 18 undergoes the adoption process and is accepted as the legal child of his or her adopted mother and/or father. In Japan, 98% of all adoption are adult adoptions, a mechanism widely used as a tool for social and economic success.2 For example, “Osamu Suzuki is the fourth in a succession of adopted heirs to serve as CEO of Suzuki Motors.”2 But while Japan embraces the adult adoption process for the culturally progressive reasons, there are many other aims for adult adoptions.
Tennessee law also recognizes this form of adoption. So, the relationship of parent and child is lawfully acknowledged and recognized here, even if that relationship was not legally established until the child was over the age of 18.
Benefits of an adult adoption:
- Establish inheritance rights (which apply the same to children adopted under the age of 21, as to natural children of the parents).3
- Formally establish an already existing parent-child-like relationship (fostered, stepchild, raised by aunt and uncle or grandparents).
- Effectively terminates the parent-child relationship between the adopted child and the natural/birth parents.4 Under the law, a child can only inherit through two parental lines, unless the child was adopted by a stepparent (wherein, the child may inherit through three). Therefore, once the adoption process is concluded, the adoptee can no longer inherit from his or her birth parents. Not only does this sever his or her inheritance connection to the natural/birth parents, but also his or her lineal descendants’ connections. So, it is necessary to consider whether forfeiting these inheritance rights for yourself and your children is the best course of action.
- If adopted over the age of 18, the adopted parents’ wills must clearly state the adoptee’s name to guarantee they are considered a beneficiary of the estate. Merely leaving property to your “children” or “heirs” will not ensure the inheritance rights under those instruments.5
- The birth parents must be notified of the action.
“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” (Galatians 4:4-5).
1 Tenn. Code § 36-1-102
2 Mehrotra, Vikas and Morck, Randall K. and Shim, Jungwook and Wiwattanakantang, Yupana, Adoptive Expectations: Rising Sons in Japanese Family Firms (February 28, 2011). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1777548 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1777548
3 Tenn. Code § 36-1-121(b)
4 Tenn. Code § 36-1-121(a)
5 Tenn. Code § 36-1-121(c)