the Probate Judge—Inheritance Rights of Adopted Children
Rudd, appeared October 17, 2002, Albuquerque Journal, Business Outlook
Reprinted with permission
note: This column may not be quoted or reproduced in whole or part without express
written permission of the author.
Q: I gave up a child for adoption 38 years ago. Five years ago, I was contacted
by this young man because he was able to get the adoption records unsealed.
He found me and wanted to obtain some medical history on my family and that
of his father's family. Do I have a financial obligation to him or do I need
to make a new will if I wish to have him included or excluded? This discovery
has caused some problems in our family and I would like to know what to expect.
According to New Mexico law, "An adopted individual is the child of his
adopting parent or parents and not of his natural parents...." Most state
laws treat adopted children as blood relatives of their adopting parents and
as strangers to their natural parents.
New Mexico's law is different if a child is adopted by the new spouse of the
child's natural parent. "The adoption of a child by the spouse of either
natural parent has no effect on … the right of the child or a descendant of
the child to inherit from or through the other natural parent," states
New Mexico law.
Suppose Ruslyn is the natural child of Bert and Julia, who divorce. Julia marries
Mark, who adopts Ruslyn. If all of the parents involved died without a valid
will, under New Mexico law, Ruslyn could inherit from Julia and Mark, as well
as from Bert.
If Bert does not want this to happen, he should prepare a will that states his
intention to disinherit Ruslyn. This example of stepparent adoption is the one
exception to the general rule that adopted children lose their inheritance rights
from their blood parents.
Back to your situation--do you have a financial obligation to your son, who
was adopted by strangers many years ago? No. If you want to include him as a
beneficiary of your estate (and you have no legal obligation to do so), you
would need to make a new will (or an amendment, called a codicil, to your old
will) that states your wishes. If you choose, you could also put a clause in
your will that specifically excludes him. Though not required by law, such language
would make your intent clear.
© 2002, Merri Rudd & Albuquerque Journal, All Rights Reserved