Adult adoption is legal in many countries, including the USA, Canada, Japan and Germany, however, the UK is not one of them. Only a child under the age of 18 can be legally adopted in the UK and, unfortunately, many do not realise until it is too late.
But why would an adult want to be adopted? Adults do not technically need the support of their parents – they can get married or enter into a civil partnership, get a pet, purchase property, buy anything and everything they want (within the limits of their personal finances). Adults can even foster or adopt children of their own. For most, it isn’t about the financial or legal benefits (although adoption does carry many), it is about the formalising the emotional connection and legally recognising that parent and child, although they may not be related by blood, are family.
Can you adopt an adult in the UK?
The adoption age limit in the UK is 18 years old. This means that an adult over the age of 18 cannot be adopted. Many people argue that this time limit is arbitrary. Technically, a child aged 17 years and 364 days can be adopted but an adult on their 18th birthday cannot.
What are the benefits to being adopted?
Formally recognise your relationship with your parents
When a person is adopted, their adoptive parents become their legal parents. For the adoptive parents of a child, becoming the legal parents also means that they get ‘parental responsibility’ – the legal rights and duties to raise the child and make decisions about their care.
Most adults do not require the care of their parents which would make parental responsibility an unnecessary benefit of adoption. However, it is symbolically important to many people to have their relationship with their parents legally recognised. For example, if someone never knew their biological father and was raised by their step father, it isn’t surprising that they would view their step father to be their ‘real’ father.
It is very common for people to only come to understand and appreciate their relationship with their parents as they grow older. Therefore, it seems unfair to deny people the option to be adopted the second they turn 18 years old.
Officially cut ties with your birth parents
When a person is adopted, the birth parents lose their parental rights in favour of the adoptive parents. For children, there is a vital legal benefit to this – it means that their birth parents no longer have the right or responsibility to make important decisions about their upbringing.
For both adults and children, officially cutting ties with their birth parents may also have emotional benefits, such as welcoming the adopted person into their ‘new’ family and helping them move on from abusive home situations.
Become entitled to inherit
Adopted children are automatically entitled to inherit from their parents, even if the parents do not make a Will. Step children and foster children do not have any automatic inheritance rights. This means that if their parent/guardian dies without making a Will, they may not inherit anything.
Of course, this issue can be solved by simply making a Will naming the step children or foster children as beneficiaries. These individuals would also retain the right to inherit from their birth parents (unless disinherited by their own Wills).
Apply for probate after your parents pass away
When a person dies, someone – usually a close relative – must step in to deal with their estate (money and property). This includes selling property, closing bank accounts, paying Inheritance Tax and distributing inheritance to the beneficiaries. This process is called probate or estate administration and the person who takes on this role must apply for a Grant of Probate (if there is a Will) or Letters of Administration (if there is no Will).
There are two ways a person can become entitled to apply for probate:
- They are appointed as an executor under the deceased person’s Will – this can be anyone, including someone who is not related
- They are automatically entitled to inherit and the deceased did not leave a Will
Under option 2, only close relatives such as spouses, civil partners, children and adopted children can apply for probate. People who are not legally recognised as a relative of the deceased, such as step children cannot apply.
Changing your name
When a person is adopted, it is common for their parents or child (if they are old enough to express their views) to choose to change their name. The adoption certificate – which replaces the child’s birth certificate – will reflect this change of name. An adoption certificate is legally accepted as sufficient evidence of someone’s change of name.
If you reach adulthood without being adopted, you will obviously not have this certificate as proof. However, if you want to change your name as an adult, you can apply for a deed poll (also called a change of name deed) instead.
Do you need advice about adoption in the UK?
Crisp & Co is a dedicated firm of lawyers who specialise only in family law. We are independently recognised by the Law Society for our advanced family law advice service, particularly for our expertise in complex and high value matters.
If you need advice about adoption or any other children related matter, we can provide clear, practical guidance and set out all your options so you can make the best choices for you and your family.