Adoption and inheritance law
A distinction must be made between minor and adult adoption. Minor adoption (under German law) is also referred to as full adoption.
Are adopted minor children treated the same as natural children under German inheritance law?
In the case of adoption of minors, the child is treated in the same way as the natural children of the adopting person. It is treated as a natural child and comprehensively becomes a legal heir of the adopter and his or her parents, grandparents and other forefathers (full adoption).
Does the adopted child lose its inheritance status after its natural parents under German law?
The adopted minor child loses the relationship to his or her natural parents in accordance with Section 1755 (1) of the Civil Code. The adopted minor child then also no longer becomes the legal heir of his or her natural parents because he or she is no longer related to them in the legal sense.
Example: The father has a minor daughter T from a previous marriage to M and is now married to F. The child is now the legal heir of her biological parents. If T is now adopted by F with the consent of M, the relationship of T to her natural mother M and her parents and other relatives ceases. If then M dies, T does not become the legal heir of her natural mother M.
If a married couple jointly adopts a minor child or if one spouse adopts the minor child of the other spouse, the child thereby acquires the status of a joint legitimate child. In this case, in accordance with § 1755.2 of the Civil Code, the relationship of the adopted child only to the other natural parent is extinguished. In this respect, it is obvious that the daughter T in the above example does not lose the relationship to her father just because she is adopted by the father's new wife. However, adoption by stepparents who are not married to each other is problematic in this respect, which is why the legislature was called upon by the BVerfG to introduce new regulations (BVerfG v. 26.3.2019 I 737 - 1 BvR 673/17).
Does the adopted minor child lose his or her position under German inheritance law also in relation to his or her natural siblings or to other relatives mediated by his or her natural parents under German law?
The adopted minor child loses not only the kinship relations to his natural parents, but in principle also to all other relatives mediated by his natural parents, i.e. in particular also to his siblings. The adopted child therefore does not under any circumstances become the legal heir of his or her natural sibling.
However, an exception applies under section 1756(2) of the Civil Code if one spouse adopts the minor child of the other spouse and the other parent is already deceased. In this case, the relationship to the other relatives is not extinguished, provided the deceased parent also had parental care. This may result in an expansion of potential legal inheritances for the adopted child.
Example: If the natural mother of daughter T has already died and the father's new wife adopts the minor daughter T, the daughter's relationship to her maternal grandparents does not expire. If the maternal grandfather now dies after the adoption, T remains the legal heir of her maternal grandfather. At the same time, however, the T also becomes the legal heir of her adoptive mother and her parents. Thus, T potentially has not only two pairs of grandparents, but three according to whom she can be the legal heir, namely the parents of her natural mother, the parents of her adoptive mother and, of course, the Parnets of her father.
What is the effect if the minor child is related to the same person in multiple ways as a result of the adoption under German inheritance law?
If a minor child is adopted by a relative or in-law in the second or third degree, the adopted child also only loses the relationship to his or her natural parents and not to the other relatives. This may result in multiple kinship.
Example: After the accidental death of his mother M and father, the minor son S is adopted by his maternal aunt T. The father of aunt T and mother M, i.e. the grandfather of the adopted child, also survives aunt T. T has another child K. Since the kinship relationships of the adopted son S, which were conveyed through his natural parents, are not extinguished by the adoption, S is related to the grandfather both through his deceased natural mother M and through his adoptive mother T, who is also deceased. If the grandfather dies, S is heir to ½ of the grandfather's estate via the line of his natural mother and to ¼ of the grandfather's estate via the line of his adoptive mother, so that he is entitled to a total of ¾. K, on the other hand, is only ¼ heir of his grandfather. This follows from section 1927 of the Civil Code, which stipulates that the person belonging to several trunks receives the share accruing to him in each trunk and that these are special shares of the inheritance in each case.
Does the adopted person also lose his status to his natural parents and other natural relatives in the case of adult adoption under German inheritance law?
In the case of the adoption of adults, the effects under § 1770 (1) sentence 1 of the Civil Code do not in principle extend to the relatives of the adopter. This is predominantly not a full adoption. This is only possible in exceptional cases on application. In the case of the adoption of adults, they become the legal heirs of the adopting party. However, the adopted person does not therefore also become the legal heir of the parents of the adopting person or after other relatives of the adopting person.
The adopted person also remains related to his natural parents and other relatives with all rights, thus also becomes their legal heir. It should therefore be noted that property bequeathed to a child adopted at the age of majority may revert to his or her natural family if the adopted child dies childless and has made no other testamentary disposition.