Adult adoption laws

By Lynne Murray

Updated July 28, 2017

Aidan Jones: Flickr

Adoption of a person over the age of 18 is relatively rare these days, but it is legal in every state 1. Each state has slightly different laws and restrictions. Usually consent of both parties is essential, unless the adult being adopted has diminished capacity. Adult adoptions allow official recognition of a parent-child relationship that already exists, such as a stepparent legally adopting a stepchild, or adoption for purposes of inheritance.


Adult adoption was more common in the past than it is today. It served the function of allowing a childless ruler to cement a dynasty. A family with no heir might adopt an adult to keep the family name alive or allow a family business to continue. Other historically common reasons for adults adopting adults included ensuring that a parent is cared for or to direct how property would be inherited.


Nowadays adults may adopt adults to establish a legal parent-child relationship, to make it easier for property to be inherited or to legalise a stepparent or foster parent-child relationship. When the adult being adopted needs perpetual care, a formal adoption enables access to family insurance, family membership or inheritance to ensure lifetime care.

When States Frown on Adult Adoption

In recent history same-sex couples, who were unable to legally marry or form civil partnerships, have tried to adopt one another in order to form a legal relationship. This was done for purposes of inheriting property and establishing other family rights. This strategy has been thwarted in some states because the parent-child relationship is built into the laws governing adoption. Even in cases of adults who are mentally and physically incapacitated, some state laws discourage adult adoption and direct caregivers to establish a conservatorship for perpetual care 1.


Each state has different adult adoption laws 1. A new birth certificate will be issued, and the surname of the adopted person may be changed. Usually in adult adoptions, the relationship with biological parents will be severed and a new parent-child relationship created just as it is when a child is adopted.

Sealed records

In most states the records for adult adoptions are sealed just as they are in child adoptions, even though there is no secrecy as to the identity of the parties involved. Adoption experts recommend keeping copies of all documents related to the adoption in a safe place. This serves as a safeguard against the difficulties encountered in getting replacement copies once the records are sealed.