Legal Memorandum: Inheritance and Adopted Children

Issue: Whether a natural parent surrenders his or her right to inherit from a natural child when that child has been legally adopted by another parent under Georgia law dating from 1928-1933.

Area of Law: Family Law
Keywords: Legal adoption absent; Clear and valid contract; Adoption and inheritance statutes
Jurisdiction: Georgia
Cited Cases: None
Cited Statutes: Code § 113-903, § 74-404
Date: 12/01/2011

While there is little case law construing the statutory provisions during the relevant time period, it appears as though the right of inheritance would be lost when a child is adopted.

In Alexander v. Lamar, 3 S.E.2d 656 (Ga. 1939), the Georgia Supreme Court considered whether a natural mother who had given up her son for adoption could inherit from the son after his death.  In that case, Magnolia Lamar had an illegitimate son with John Alexander in 1912.  John Alexander acknowledged the son as his own, but died in 1919.  At that time, Magnolia Lamar entered into an agreement with John Alexander’s mother, Maggie Griggs, to adopt the child.  Maggie took the child in and treated him as her own until her death in 1932, but never completed the steps to legally adopt the child.  In 1933, the child died.  At that time, the only surviving heir of Maggie Griggs was Anthony Alexander.  Magnolia Lamar sued Anthony Alexander seeking an order compelling Alexander to surrender all property in his possession that had formerly belonged to the adopted child.

After the court concluded that, despite failing to effect a legal adoption, equity required that Maggie Griggs was to be considered the adopted parent of the child because there was a clear and valid contract between Lamar and Griggs whereby Griggs agreed to adopt the child and Griggs substantially performed that contract by taking the child in and assuming responsibility for him. 

When considering whether enforcement […]

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