Many Wills express the testator's wish that his or her estate be shared among his or her children. In some families, it's obvious who is meant by the word "children", while in other families it is less so. In this post I'm going to look at the legal rights of adopted children when a parent - biological or adoptive - passes away.
As with all general rules about what is meant by certain legal words or phrases, remember that if the person's Will says something contrary to the general rule, the Will must be followed.
When an adoptive parent passes away, an adopted child has exactly the same legal status as a biological child born to that parent. When the Will makes a gift to "my children", adopted children will be treated the same as biological children when it comes to inheriting. Every province and territory in Canada has legislation in place that creates that right.
What if the biological parent of a child who has been adopted should pass away? If the biological parent leaves a Will that divides the estate among his or her children, this will not include the child who has been adopted by someone else. According to the law, the child is no longer that person's child, because of the adoption. If the biological parent wanted to leave something to a child who was adopted, he or she could do so by specifically mentioning that child's name in the Will.
It's important to note that when I say "adopted" children, I'm referring to children who have been legally adopted under provincial or territorial law. On occasion, a child will be raised in a family that treats the child as its own, but never formally adopts the child. The child might not know one or both of the biological parents, and may have a strong family bond with the new family. In a case like that, the child is not considered legally adopted. The child is still the child of its biological parents, not the parents who voluntarily raised him or her.
This sometimes creates interesting situations for blended families, and is one of the reasons I always urge the parents of blended families to spend some time with an estate-planning lawyer to make sure their Wills are going to create the outcome they want.