Tag Archive for: adoption

Jessica Dunne | Inheritance and Adoption Crossroads | Farrow-Gillespie Heath Witter LLP

Where Adoption and Inheritance Cross Paths

When a Texan dies without a will, the decedent’s property passes to his or her heirs in accordance with the laws of intestate succession. Adoption may affect inheritance if either the decedent or an heir is a part of what is known as the adoption triad. The adoption triad consists of the biological parents, the adoptive parents, and the adopted child. This article explains the effects of adoption on inheritance for each member of the adoption triad. Additionally, this article suggests best practices for attorneys who find themselves responsible for, as well as individuals who want to avoid, the legal effects of an intestate estate.

The Adoptive Parents

The adoptive parents and their kindred inherit from and through the adopted child as if the adopted child were the biological child of the adoptive parents.

Biological Parents

Biological parents may not inherit from or through the child they placed for adoption.

Adopted Adult

In the case of adult adoption, which is generally defined in Texas as the adoption of a person age 18 or older, an adopted adult may not inherit from or through the adult’s biological parents, and the biological parents may not inherit from or through the adopted adult.

Determination of Heirs Through Court Proceeding

When a decedent dies without a will, the decedent’s heirs, as well as the heirs’ respective shares and interests in the decedent’s estate, may be determined through a proceeding to declare heirship. In a proceeding to declare heirship, the court is required to appoint an attorney to represent the interests of any unknown heirs. The court-appointed attorney will perform an investigation into the identity and location of the decedent’s heirs, including any heirs who were adopted or placed for adoption.

Practical Considerations for Attorneys

An adoption placement may be difficult for an attorney to ascertain for various reasons. Sometimes women do not share that they placed a child for adoption, even with close family members or friends. Sometimes men are not aware of the existence of a biological child that was placed for adoption by the biological mother. Moreover, it is difficult to unseal parental termination orders, especially from years past, to determine if the child’s right to inherit from their biological parents was terminated. Despite these potential roadblocks, attorneys representing the applicant or the unknown heirs in a proceeding to declare heirship should make reasonable inquiries into whether the decedent ever: (1) placed a child for adoption, (2) adopted a child, (3) had a biological child that was adopted as an adult, or (4) adopted an adult. Such inquiries are required for due diligence, and if discovered, these actions can significantly impact inheritance under the laws of intestacy.

Avoid Surprises by Executing a Will

Texas inheritance laws do not prevent biological or adoptive parents from disposing of their property in any manner of their choosing through a valid will. Thus, if a decedent has a valid will, the scenario discussed above should never become an issue. Regardless of whether adoption is part of your story, all individuals are advised to obtain a comprehensive estate plan to devise their estate as they wish. The attorneys at Farrow-Gillespie Heath Witter LLP are here to help.


Jessica Dunne is an associate attorney at Farrow-Gillespie Heath Witter LLP. Jessica has substantial experience in civil litigation with a special interest in estate planning, probate, guardianships, and adoption. Jessica graduated cum laude from Baylor Law School in 2011 where she was the recipient of the Presidential Scholarship. Jessica’s professional memberships include the Dallas Bar Association, Dallas Association of Young Lawyers, Texas Aggie Bar Association, Attorneys Serving the Community and the State Bar of Texas.

Jessica Dunne | Legal Consideration for Texans Considering Adoption | Farrow-Gillespie Heath Witter LLP

Ten Legal Considerations for Texans Considering Adoption

This article is based on Texas law only. If you are adopting from another state or nation, you should seek appropriate legal counsel licensed by the jurisdiction from which you are adopting. 

Photo used with client permission.

If you are a considering adoption, you may feel excited, overwhelmed, and even concerned. While the excitement is expected and the paperwork is certainly daunting, your concern likely comes from the unknown. There are so many questions to answer when beginning the adoption process. International, domestic, or foster care? Attorney or private agency? Open, closed, or semi-open? And the question in the back of your mind – could the birth mother or father change their minds and take the child back?

Your concerns are valid and normal of any hopeful adoptive parent. Fortunately, Texas law is quite favorable when it comes to adoption, especially for the adoptive parents.

These ten legal considerations for Texans considering adoption are intended to put many of your worries at bay and allow you to focus on the journey toward growing your family through adoption.

Who Can Adopt

Single or married adults are eligible to adopt. If a married person files a petition for adoption, their spouse must join in the petition for adoption.

General Process of Adoption in Texas

Adoption is a two-step process, which includes: (1) termination of parental rights and (2) adoption of the child. An adoption of a child cannot occur without first terminating the parent-child relationship as to each living biological parent of the child.

Relinquishment of Birth Parents’ Rights — Timing

The birth parents cannot sign a relinquishment of parental rights until at least 48 hours after the birth of the child. A pre-birth contract or other written agreement for an adoption plan is unenforceable against a birth parent. For that first 48 hours, the birth parent has full legal authority to change his or her mind, choose to parent, and refuse to sign a relinquishment of parental rights. Understandably, the first 48 hours after the birth of the child can be nerve-racking for hopeful adoptive parents.

Relinquishment of Birth Parents’ Rights — Revocability

A written relinquishment of parental rights that designates the Department of Family and Protective Services or a licensed child-placing agency to serve as the managing conservator is irrevocable. The birth parents cannot simply change their minds, and the relinquishment is used in the proceeding to terminate parental rights. The birth parents can appeal an order terminating parental rights, but only on the basis of fraud, duress, or coercion in the execution of the affidavit. Those grounds are difficult to prove. Accordingly, once the relinquishment is signed, the adoptive parents should feel a sense of security.

Termination of Birth Father’s Rights – Waiver of Interest

The birth father (or an alleged birth father) can sign an affidavit of waiver of interest in the child, which may be signed before the birth of the child. This waiver is irrevocable and can be used in the proceeding to terminate parental rights.

Termination of Birth Father’s Rights – Without Notice

The birth father’s parental rights may be terminated without notice to him if he fails to register with the state paternity registry before the 31st day after the child is born and does not commence a proceeding to adjudicate his paternity before the court has terminated his parental rights.

Although this termination procedure without notice is possible under the Texas Family Code, a judge has discretion to require that notice be given, if the father is known.

Six-Month Residence Before Adoption

The adopted child must reside with the proposed adoptive parent(s) for at least six months prior to finalizing the adoption. This allows time for the required post-placement evaluations, which are often performed by the adoption agency.

Inheritance Rights of an Adopted Child

An adopted child is the son or daughter to the adoptive parent(s) for all purposes, including inheritance. An adopted child may also inherit through the child’s biological parents; however, the biological parents may not inherit from or through the adopted child.

Contact with Birth Parents

Adoptive parents ultimately call the shots regarding contact with the birth parents, if any. Although open and semi-open adoption is very common now, especially in domestic adoption, open and semi-open adoption agreements are not enforceable by law. With that said, it is advisable to be honest with your agency about the amount of contact with which you are comfortable, and you should follow through accordingly.

Adult Adoption

Adults can be adopted. An adopted adult is the son or daughter of the adoptive parent for all purposes, including inheritance. However, the adopted adult may not inherit through the adult’s biological parents, and the biological parents may not inherit from or through an adopted adult.

Texas Law Favorable to Adopting

Texas law is designed to give assurances to prospective adoptive parents. Although we have all heard stories of unsuccessful adoptions or children returned to their biological parents, these scenarios are uncommon. The main area of risk occurs during the termination of parental rights.  No matter how you adopt – internationally, domestically, or through the foster care system – this first step will likely be handled without much or any of your involvement. Most agencies include termination of the biological parents’ rights in the adoption fee package, and the Department of Family & Protective Services will terminate the biological parents’ rights for children in the foster care system.

Legal Counsel

You will likely have to retain legal counsel to perform the second step, finalizing the adoption. The adoption consists of submitting appropriate paperwork to the Court and attending a hearing in front of a judge. These hearings are short, relatively informal, and provide much cause for celebrating your new family!

Do your research and team up with experienced and respected adoption professionals to guide you through the process. The attorneys at Farrow-Gillespie Heath Witter are here to help.


Jessica Dunne is an associate attorney at Farrow-Gillespie Heath Witter LLP. Jessica has substantial experience in civil litigation with a special interest in estate planning, probate, guardianships, and adoption. Jessica graduated cum laude from Baylor Law School in 2011 where she was the recipient of the Presidential Scholarship. Jessica’s professional memberships include the Dallas Bar Association, Dallas Association of Young Lawyers, Texas Aggie Bar Association, Attorneys Serving the Community and the State Bar of Texas.