Many foster parents love their foster children like their own biological children. Especially for foster children who remain in a home for years, the distinction may fade away in every practical sense. They are, for all intents and purposes, a member of the family.
The foster system can be complicated; its goal is to reunite biological families whenever possible, so the rights of biological parents to their children may not be terminated for years, if ever. In the meantime, foster parents who have grown attached to their foster children may harbor a hope and an intention to adopt them someday.
What are the inheritance rights of a foster child when their foster parent dies? Do those rights change if the foster parents intended to adopt the foster child but never did?
As a general rule, foster children in Ohio are not eligible to inherit from their foster parents under Ohio laws of intestate succession, which dictate how a deceased person's property will be distributed in the absence of a valid will. Children who have been legally adopted have the same standing to inherit as if they were born to the deceased.
Foster parents may not have intended to exclude a foster child from inheriting. They may have assumed that the adoption would go through eventually, or they may have intended to change their will to include the foster child. Unfortunately, Ohio courts do not recognize these hopes and intentions as legally binding.
Several states do recognize a doctrine called "equitable adoption." Under this doctrine, if a parents made a verbal agreement to adopt a child, but the adoption is not finalized before a parent's death, the child can acquire certain legal rights as if he or she had been adopted. Ohio does not recognize equitable adoption if a contract to adopt was entered into within the state, but if the oral contract was entered into in a state where it would be considered enforceable, Ohio would honor it.
If you are a foster parent who truly considers your foster child a member of your family, you may want to consider taking steps to legally protect them. You may have limited control over your ability to adopt a child, but you can still allow them to inherit from you.
If you create an estate plan naming your foster child as a beneficiary, they can inherit from you regardless of whether they are legally your child. If the child is still a minor, and you are worried about the biological parents getting hold of and wasting the child's inheritance, you may prefer to create a living trust, making them a beneficiary upon your death and naming someone you trust as successor trustee to yourself.
Taking steps to allow your foster child to inherit from you not only provides them with much-needed security, it will remind them of how you were there for them when they needed you most.