Adoption and Inheritance Rights in California

Adoption and inheritance rights in the state of California

When individuals die – especially when intestate (without a Will) – children are often treated favorably when it comes to their rights and inheritances with respect to their deceased parent(s). The designated assets of the deceased pass through them to their biological child(ren). But what about adoptive children? Are they entitled to these rights, too?

Adopted Children and Inheritance Rights

In California, adopted children have all of the same rights as biological children when it comes to inheritance rights. Adopted children can inherit either from or through a deceased adoptive parent. However, generally speaking, adopted children cannot receive inheritance from their biological parents once they are legally adopted. 

Therefore, short a few exceptions, descendants of an adopted child who is deceased may also inherit from their deceased parent’s adoptive parents – not their deceased parent’s biological parents.

California Court of Appeals for the 1st District Hears Case

In September, the California Court of Appeals for the 1st District heard the case of Estate of Fusae Obata. It determined whether or not California law recognizes the Japanese adult adoption practice, Yoshi-engumi, with concern to inheritance laws. In Japan, this practice has very different purposes than those of adoptions in the “Western World.”

While Western countries tend to adopt minor children, Japanese adult adoptions are motivated by the idea of an extended family. Adult adoptions help support and worship the elderly. In Japan, when there are no biological adult children, these adult adoptions help the continuation of a house that wouldn’t otherwise survive. 

Estate of Fusae Obata

In Estate of Fusae Obata, the parties argued over whether the descendants of a deceased Japanese man, who had been adopted in adulthood, lose the right to inherit from that man’s biological parents. In order to resolve this, California defers to the law of the jurisdiction in which a person is adopted. This helps to decide whether or not the foreign adoption is legal. California also looks to the jurisdiction in which the individual dies to determine who is an heir. 

In this case, the Court rejected the idea that the adult adoption created under the Yoshi-engumi adoption was invalid in California All that mattered for determining inheritance rights in a California probate proceeding is that under the Japanese law, “the adopted person is considered a biological child for all purposes.” Therefore, Japanese man’s descendants could not inherit from his biological parents since the adoption was recognized. 

What Does the Ruling in Estate of Fusae Obata Mean?

Essentially, this case showed that California probate proceedings in which adoptions occurred in another state or in a foreign country are recognized in California so long as the law of the foreign jurisdiction where the adoption took place recognizes it. 

Posted in: Estate Planning