A recent case I handled help outline the rights of adopted children to inherit from or through their biological parent. To my knowledge, and that of the attorney who served as public administrator and personal representative, this was a case of first impression in Michigan. Neither of us was able to find a Michigan case directly on point. The focus was how the Adoption Code and the Estates and Protected Individuals Code (“EPIC”) were to be read together given the change in treatment of adopted children brought about by EPIC in 2000.
Prior to EPIC, the Adoption Code cut off a cut off an adopted child’s ability to inherit from his or her natural parents, with the adoptive parents taking the place of the natural parents for inheritance purposes (MCL 710.60). This was true even in the case of a step-parent adoption – where one natural parent’s parental rights are terminated and the adopted child is adopted by the spouse of the other natural parent. As the late Walter Cronkite said, “and that’s the way it was.”
Along came EPIC, effective April 1, 2000, and amended the Adoption Code to include an exception for Section 2114(2) of EPIC. Section 2114 of EPIC defines the parent and child relationship, specifically stating in paragraph (2) that “an adopted individual is the child of his or her adoptive parent or parents and not of his or her natural parents, but adoption of a child by the spouse of either natural parent has no effect on either the relationship between the child and that natural parent or the right of the child or a descendant of the child to inherit from or through the other natural parent.” What a mouthful. What does it mean? It means that there is an exception to the general rule that an adopted child is cut off from his or her natural parents for purposes of intestate succession – the exception is a step-parent adoption. Because of EPIC, a child adopted by a step-parent continues to be able to inherit from or through his or her natural parents.
Without case law on point, this could be left up to interpretation . . . what does from or through mean? How far up the line of ancestry does it go? And on and on. Our position was stated as follows: “the Adoption Code’s general rule terminating the ability of an adopted child to inherit from the parent whose rights were terminated is subject to the exception provided for in EPIC. This exception applies to what is commonly referred to as a ‘stepparent adoption;’ where one biological parent’s parental rights are terminated and the spouse of the other biological parent adopts the child. In effect, the adopted child has three parents for purposes of intestate succession: both natural parents and the adoptive parent.” This case was the exact situation provided for by the Adoption Code and EPIC. Those statutes allowed my client to inherit from his biological grandmother. Because there was no surviving spouse and my client is the only lineal descendant of his biological grandmother through his biological father (her only child), he is entitled to inherit her entire estate through his biological father.
The Chief Judge of the Kent County Probate Court agreed with us and my client was able to inherit the entire estate, making him very happy. If you live in Michigan, have any questions, and would like to schedule an initial consultation, please contact me.