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How to Adopt an Adult in California

Most adoptions involve the adoption of a minor by one or more adults. When an adult adopts a minor, the intent is largely functional—the adopter wishes to have the ability to make important decisions on behalf of the child, and to bear the responsibility for ensuring adequate shelter, nutrition, and emotional nurturing.

On the other hand, adult adoption—the adoption of an individual who has already attained the age of majority—is in many ways a ceremonial act, granting legal recognition to a parent-child relationship that has likely been built over many years or even decades, as is often the case with a stepparent and their spouse’s children. However, adult adoption is a legal action that brings with a number of formal requirements and legal consequences that should be considered.

Legal Requirements for Adopting an Adult in California

Specifications and Requirements for Adopting an Adult in California

  • The adoptee must at least 18 years old.
  • The adoptive parent must be at least 10 years older than the adoptee.
  • If the adopter or adoptee is married, they must have spousal consent.
  • The adopted person may choose to keep their last name, or change it to match the adoptive parent’s.
  • A person may not adopt more than one unrelated adult within one year of they or their spouse previously adopting another adult, unless:
    • The second adoptee is a biological sibling of the first.
    • The second adoptee is disabled.

In many ways, there are far fewer legal constraints when adopting an adult. For instance, there is no need to secure the consent of the adoptee’s biological or current legal parents. This is why it’s quite common for stepparents to adopt children they have raised once the children come of age, as it’s no long necessary to obtain the consent of often uncooperative natural parents.

Also, it is usually unnecessary for Social Services to conduct an investigation.

Benefits and Legal Ramifications of Adopting an Adult

As noted above, the adoption of an adult is often seen as a formality between the two parties, making legal what was long a de facto parent-child relationship. However, adoption carries with it very real legal responsibilities and ramifications, which is why legal spouses of either individual must consent to the adoption beforehand.

One of the big benefits of adult adoption is the ability to help care for an adopted dependent with severe health issues, such as by being able to extend insurance coverage to them, or other health benefits.

On the other hand, a very serious consequence of adoption is that all existing legal parent-child relationships are severed, unless the adoptive parent is married to one of the adoptee’s parents, in which case that parent retains parental rights.

The last significant concern is the matter of inheritance. A legally adopted adopt has just as much right to inheritance as an adopted minor or a natural child. This is something you may wish to discuss with your estate planner, or while preparing a trust or will.

The Process of Adopting an Adult in California

The steps for adopting an adult are pretty straightforward, and quite streamlined when compared to the often onerous process of adopting a minor. As mentioned above, you do not have to secure the permission of the adoptee’s natural parents. Because the adoptee is of age, they are able to give the necessary consent.

Depending on the circumstances of the adopter and adoptee, there are between three and five documents which must be provided to the court. Sacramento County courts do not have prepared forms to fill out, but the Sacramento County Public Law Library has provided templates in Microsoft Word format which are quite convenient.

The three documents required in all circumstances are:

  • Adoption Agreement: The Adoption Agreement is a very brief two page document. It’s used to show that the adopter and adoptee have agreed to become parent and child in a legal regard, with all of the rights and responsibilities that come with the relationship.
  • Petition of Approval of Adoption Agreement: This is a request issued to the court asking that they approve the Adoption Agreement. However, it’s actually more involved than the Adoption Agreement, as it is here that you provide detailed information on the two parties, including their birthdates, where they live, the names of spouses, and so on.
  • Order of Adoption: This is a document for the judge to sign, through which they approve the Adoption Agreement.

If the adoptive parent is married, they will also need to fill out a Consent of Spouse of Adopting Parent document and have their spouse sign it. If the adoptee is married, they will have to fill out a Consent of Spouse of Adopted Person document, and have their spouse sign it.

Once you have all of the necessary documents filled out and signed, you will need to prepare them properly and make at least two copies. The Sac Law Library has a guide on how to prepare the adoption documents, as well as an overview of the entire process. It’s advisable to print the PDF and keep it on hand for reference.

You will also need to obtain Form VS-44, Court Report of Adoption, from your local court clerk. If they do not have a copy, you can obtain one from the Office of Vital Records of the California Department of Public Health. Do not fill it out. This is for the court’s use. Be sure to ask the court clerk about any questions you may have—they are quite knowledgeable, and an invaluable resource of information, particularly about how your local family court operates

With everything in order, you can file your adoption petition with the family court in which either the adopter or adoptee resides. For Sacramento residents, you will want to submit your paperwork to:

William R. Ridgeway Family Relations Courthouse
3341 Power Inn Road
Sacramento CA 95826
916-875-3400

When you present your paperwork to the clerk, along with a $20 fee, they will assign you a case number, place an “endorsed filed” stamp on your paperwork and copies, and provide you with a hearing date.

Then, wait until your hearing date. If the adoptee is developmentally disabled, you will need to give a 30 day notice to your local regional center for the developmentally disabled. The regional center for Sacramento is:

Alta California Regional Center
2241 Harvard Street, Ste. 100
Sacramento CA 95815
916-978-6400

On your hearing date, both the adopter and adoptee must attend. Bring a copy of all of your paperwork. The judge will ask the adopter about his or her rationale for the adoption. The judge may also ask the adoptee questions about the nature of the relationship between the two parties.

Once the hearing is complete and the judge has signed the Order of Adoption, file the Order with the court clerk, who will provide certified copies upon request. Also inquire with the court clerk if you wish to have the adoptee’s birth certificate amended to reflect the adoption.

Adult adoptions do require some patience, but they are far less emotionally and financially taxing than the process for adopting a minor. This is why many stepparents choose to wait until after a child comes of age to adopt. Or alternatively, children wait until the age of 18 to ask their stepparents to adopt them (you’ve likely seen one of the many emotional ‘surprise adoption’ videos on YouTube).

Adopting an adult can be an immensely gratifying opportunity to celebrate a relationship that has been parent-child in every respect but legally, particularly when you wish to secure the same parental rights and responsibilities accorded to natural parents.

At Toeppen & Grevious, we love having the opportunity to assist families with positive, life-affirming moments, particularly adoptions, stepparent adoptions, and adult adoptions.  If you would like assistance with your adult adoption, contact us today by calling 916-400-4516, or sending us a message using our contact form.