Can adopted son claim share of birth mother’s farm?

Q&A: Law is very clear on who can and cannot demand share of inheritance

My husband was adopted as a baby into a lovely happy family. After having our own children, we both started searching for his birth mother. After over 20 years of on and off searching, he found his mother and, with help from her, also his father and siblings.

As it happens his birth mother had no more children and runs a very large farm. She reared her niece from an infant and considers her as a daughter.

This poor lady was forced to give up her baby by the family of the father whom also was regarded as a big farmer. However after finding his birth mother, she finds it very difficult to build a relationship with her son (my husband).

Since finding her, numerous people have said that because she runs a family farm, under the Succession Act my husband is entitled to a share of the farm when his birth mum passes. He was legally adopted so I can’t imagine that this is fact. Any clarification would be greatly appreciated.

Ms M.McC., email

At a time when we are hearing so much about the troubled past of (illegal) adoptions in Ireland, it is reassuring to read about one of the many instances where adoption worked wonderfully well for both the child and their adoptive parents. This is something that your husband needs to focus on – the loving family in which he was reared.

The grim environment until very recently in Ireland for women who became pregnant outside marriage continues to be a national shame and a stain against the reputation of both the State and the churches that did so much to encourage it – as well as so many others in communities who simply chose to look the other way. It is important to remember that the women affected, as well as their children, were victims here.

We all have our own ways of dealing with trauma and there are so many reasons why your husband’s birth mother may have difficulty building a relationship with him after so many years – including but not limited to the fact that she appears to have raised a niece as a daughter.

That raises its own issues about succession but that’s not relevant here.

The fact that the sudden reappearance of a lost child might have a financial impact could clearly also be a worry. It is clear from your letter that this was never an issue either of you entertained when you were searching for his birth family... but that doesn’t mean it is not an issue which worries his birth mother.

Trying to put oneself in the other person’s shoes is very important in seeking to understand the sometimes very confusing reactions that can emerge in such sensitive situations.

Unhelpful

And that is certainly not helped by the unhelpful and inaccurate witterings of the “numerous people” who have been advising your husband on hearing of the news that he is entitled to a share of his birth mother’s farm. I find it particularly interesting (and Irish) that none appears to have suggested he has a claim on his birth father’s landholdings alongside his recently discovered half-siblings.

Succession law is very clear here. Once a person has been legally adopted, they have no claim on the assets of their birth parents under intestacy or under any general provision in a birth parent's will for the division of assets or property among their children.

The relevant section of the Succession Act is section 110, which refers to section 60 of the updated Adoption Act from 2010 that lays down the provisions in relation to property rights.

So you are quite correct in your view that there is no basis in fact for any encouragement of him to stake a claim against his birth mother’s farm in the event of her death.

Even if he were not adopted, as an adult, he would have to show that he had not been adequately provided for by his parents in order to assert any claim on his birth mother’s (or father’s) estate. It is not an automatic right.

That does not preclude birth parents making specific legal provision for children since adopted by others in their will. And, where they do, those children adopted by other families will benefit from the category A tax exemption– currently €335,000 – that applies between parents and children.

But that is the choice of the birth parent, not an obligation.

Finally, and importantly for the many other people who have found themselves subject to illegal adoption, Minister for Children Roderic O'Gorman recently announced proposed changes to succession law that will give them rights to inheritance from both their birth parents and their adoptive ones. Those changes have yet to be made.

Please send your queries to Dominic Coyle, Q&A, The Irish Times, 24-28 Tara Street, Dublin 2, or by email to dcoyle@irishtimes.com. This column is a reader service and is not intended to replace professional advice