Can you legally adopt an adult?

Solidify an inheritance, formalize an already existing relationship, or gain full responsibility for another adult's care with an adult adoption.

by Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy
updated May 11, 2023 ·  2min read

Older woman hugs adult daughter

Maybe you finally found that son you've always wanted, but he happens to be 35 years old. Or maybe you were reunited with your birth mother and want to make her your legal mom. But adoption is just for babies and little kids, right? Who has a brand new daughter that's over 21?

Regardless of what you think, it is both legal and possible to adopt yourself a healthy, bouncing grownup. In many cases, your new adult family member must simply be a legal adult and voluntarily agree to the adoption.

Why adopt an adult?

Adoption is the same legal process whether the individual is a child or an adult. The court issues a new birth certificate for the adopted individual and any existing legal relationships with biological or custodial parents are severed. The adopted adult can change his or her last name, also called a surname change, and all adoption records will be sealed.

The most common reason to adopt an adult is for inheritance purposes. In this case, adult adoption allows someone to leave property or financial assets to the adopted individual more easily.

The second reason, almost as common, is to formalize an existing parent/child relationship. For example, parents can adopt a now-adult foster child or stepchild. Adult adoption is a popular option for biological parents as well as for children who find their birth family and wish to be formally acknowledged or fathers who find children they didn't know they had.

Finally, adult adoptions often occur to provide perpetual care for an adult who has a diminished capacity or disability. Such adult adoptions can assume responsibility for a mentally disabled or challenged individual, or someone who is physically disabled. Through the adoption process, one adult can become the responsible party and decisionmaker for another adult's care.

Guidelines and requirements vary

Guidelines and requirements for adult adoptions vary between states. If you're considering an adult adoption, check with your Secretary of State. Many states require formal notification of birth parents. Some require the adopted party to be of diminished capacity, while others only need an agreement between the parties involved. If the adult up for adoption is married, some states will want to have the consent of the adopted person's spouse.

Why are some applications rejected?

Interestingly, adult adoptions are not always granted. Many are rejected because of a preexisting sexual relationship between the two parties. Since the courts are formalizing the relationship of parent and child; hence, any sexual relationship will prohibit the adoption.

Age differences might also halt a proposed adult adoption. In most states, restrictions exist that require the adopting party to be older than the person adopted.

Any suspected fraud will stop an adult adoption in its tracks. Fraud, alleged or real, could include someone asking a wealthy individual to adopt him or her in order to inherit property. If the adopting party doesn't fully consent or understand the act, the courts will likely suspect fraud. Fraud can also relate to insurance, property, or marital issues.

Anyone considering an adult adoption is advised to learn the laws governing adoptions in his or her state and to consult an attorney. A full understanding of adult adoption and its effects is necessary before beginning the process of gaining or becoming a brand new son or daughter, no matter your age.

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About the Author

Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy

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This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.