I was born out of wedlock. While my mother did marry my biological father, it was a forced marriage and they divorced about three months after I was born. My mother then married a man (I’ll call Paul to keep this story straight) when I was about one year old, but they divorced when I was about nine years of age. My mother moved out and my half-sister and I stayed with Paul.
When I was about 12 years old, I learned that Paul was not my real father. However, I had always gone by his last name. You can imagine the betrayal I felt at such an impressionable age knowing that I had been lied to by so many people. Paul subsequently adopted me, with the permission of my mother and my biological father.
While my mother gave her consent to the adoption, she did not realize that Paul would do it as a single parent adoption. Therefore, I have no mother listed on my birth certificate. I shared this with her when I was in my 30s and she was furious. Paul was a very controlling, manipulative man and was feared by many of us, so we never thought to challenge this as a result and, at the time, I couldn’t think of any reason why that would matter.
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Paul is now deceased and now that I am much older (late 50s) and my mother is fortunately still a sprightly 70-plus stunner, it is bothering me greatly whether this will impact my status regarding inheritance from my mother.
My mother had a falling out with my sister almost 10 years ago and changed her will such that my sister will not receive any inheritance from our mother. My mother has plans in her will to leave some inheritance to my sister’s children, just not my sister. My sister was such a b**** when Paul passed away. (Oh, the horror stories I could tell you about that!) that I fear what my sister will do when she finds out she’s been disinherited.
She’s extremely vindictive and I fear that she may try to use the fact that my mother isn’t legally my mother against me. I’m trying to decide if I need to bother trying to get my adoption overturned and get my mother back reinstated on my birth certificate.
I was born in Alabama and was adopted in Alabama. My mother still lives there. I currently live in Missouri, but plan to move back to Alabama in a few years after my husband retires. My sister currently lives in Illinois, but will be moving to Missouri in the next couple of months.
Dear Adopted Daughter,
I’m sorry to hear everything you went through with your stepfather and your family, but I’m heartened to hear you now have a relationship with your mother.
When a child is adopted, the original birth certificate is usually sealed by the court. According to the Alabama Department of Public Health: “In 2000, the legislature amended the vital records law to allow an adult whose original birth certificate was placed in a ‘sealed file’ to obtain a non-certified copy of that record and any other documents in the ‘sealed file.’” You could always request a copy of that original and include it with the will.
That said, the more explicit and detailed your mother is in her will, I am relatively confident that it would stand up in court. Any adult of sound mind can make a will and can exclude legal heirs. She could refer to you as her biological daughter, and once you’re named and your sister is disinherited by name, any challenge would be unlikely to stand up in court. In such cases, it’s important to name a child who is excluded. Otherwise, that person could argue that their parent merely omitted to mention them.
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The problems arise when a parent fails to make a rock-solid will with the assistance of an estate lawyer. But don’t take my word for it. I asked not one, but two, lawyers who specialize in estate planning and adoption law to put your mind at ease. “All laws regarding adoption and inheritance are state specific. However, as a general rule, the mere act of adoption grants inheritance rights only if a parent dies intestate without a will,” said Robin Fleischner and Theodore Metzger, two New York-based attorneys.
“There is no legal impediment for Jo’s mother to make a specific bequest to anyone, including Jo,” they added. “There is also no legal impediment for Jo’s mother to disinherit anyone, but a spouse. While Jo’s sister could try to contest her birth mother’s will for reasons such as incapacity, duress, or undue influence, the fact that Jo is not her legal daughter would not be a ground for attacking the will.” I hope that puts your mind at rest. Step 1: Make a will. Step 1: Name the beneficiaries. Step 3: Name those who are excluded.
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