According to the NYS Estate Law the answer is, it depends. As one of a select group of NY estate lawyers with a successful track record contesting wills in NY, we know how confusing the NY Estate Law can be. Perhaps the most challenging body of NY Estate Law concerns the rights of adopted children. It is here at this intersection of the New York Estates Trusts and Powers Law (EPTL) and Domestic relations Law (DRL) that they merge upon one another creating a labyrinth of contradictory law concerning the inheritance rights of adoptive children in NY. A NY estate lawyer can easily surmise from reading the law, that a child given up for adoption has all legal standing to inherit from their biological families extinguished. As intuitive as that may sound, that NY estate lawyer would be wrong.
As a NY will contest lawyer practicing in Forest Hills, NY, our offices have represented many different clients involving an incomprehensible array of issues regarding the NY Estate Law. One of our most recent NY will contest cases involved a child who had been given up for adoption by their biological parent. The NY will contest question presented was could this biological child claim standing under the NY will contest laws to inherit from his biological parents?
An adoptive child’s standing under the NY Estate Law governing will contests in NY presents complicated issues. To find the answer we have to analyze the cross-section of EPTL and DRL laws as stated above. While the NY Domestic Relations Laws dictate the effects of adoption on the legal rights of biological children, the NY Estate Law governs how those rights affect their entitlement to the distributions of inheritance. Generally speaking Domestic Relations Law §117(2) mandates that adopted-out children, children given up for adoption, be treated as strangers for purposes of their rights to inherit from their biological families. Thus the Domestic Relations Law severed any and all legal rights adopted-out child might have exercised over the inheritance of their biological family. Previously, under this rule an adopted-out child would have no legal standing to contest a will or lay claims to such estates.
However in the landmark case of the Estate of Murphy, the Court of Appeals for the State of New York contradicted the Domestic Relations Law regarding NY will contests. In its opinion the Court ruled that even when a child is given up for adoption “adopted out” they may still be considered a distributee of their biological families under certain circumstances pursuant to the EPTL governing NY will contests. A NY will contest lawyer should find the Court’s interpretation in Murphyfascinating. Historically adopted-out children had their legal rights severed and were treated as complete strangers with regard to their rights to inherit from their biological families. In light of the above decision, the Court now allows the rights of an adopted out child to be resurrected at times enabling them to inherit.
This trend is the result of a public policy directive advancing a more inclusive approach with regard to determining the rights of the adopted. After this ruling the Domestic Relations Law itself was ratified to reflect this more progressive approach. Currently, under the New York Estate Law, a child given up for adoption may now inherit as a distributee in instances where they were included in a will of a member of their biological family. Thus, enabling an adoptive child to have standing in a NY will contest, in such instances.
Additionally, an adoptive child under the NY Estate Law may also inherit from their biological family through the NY Intestacy Laws, when there is no will. This occurs when a stepparent, biological grandparent or descendants of their biological grandparents have adopted them. Additionally, children of the adopted-out child are equally entitled to inherit though their adopted parent’s rights under the NY Estate Law as well.
If the rights of adoptive children regarding a NY Will Contest or the NY Intestacy Laws seem complicated they are. It is a body of NY estate law that has been evolving for nearly two hundred years and does not seem to be finished. I, myself as a NY Estate Lawyer often grapple with these convoluted laws. Put simply, if your biological family gave up you for adoption your rights to inherit from their estates were not completely extinguished. If you, as an adopted child were either left in a will of a biological relative, adopted by a subsequent spouse of your biological mother or father (step-parent), or adopted by a grandparent or any other decedent of your biological grandparents you are entitled to inherit under the NY Estate Law.
If you or a loved one were adopted or are the children of an adopted parent, and would like to speak with a NY will contest lawyer, feel free to call the Law Offices of Jason W. Stern & Associates for a free consultation at (718) 261-2444.