Adopting an Adult in Germany

German Family Lawyers

Adopting an Adult in Germany

German Family Lawyers

The word “adoption” is usually associated with adopting a child, although adopting an adult is becoming increasingly common in Germany. It is legally possible and can bring many advantages, for example, in tax or inheritance law. However, the parties involved are primarily interested in sealing an existing close family bond through formal adoption.

However, specific requirements must be met for the adoption of an adult to be legally recognised. Another complicating factor is that such a legally complex matter as the adoption of an adult always depends on the circumstances of the individual case. Therefore, if you are currently considering adoption, we recommend contacting our law firm. This way, you can benefit from the expertise of our family law attorneys.

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Legal assistance in German Family Law

Representation in adoption proceedings
  • Clarification of all relevant questions regarding German adoption law

  • Notarisation of the consent of the spouses

  • Application for adoption at the family court

Information on
  • Your rights and obligations
  • Options for action and prospects of success

  • Costs


Why Adopt an Adult?

First and foremost, adopting an adult is intended to symbolise the close parent-child relationship between the adopting and the adopted persons. This adoption form is legally regulated in the German Civil Code (BGB) from § 1767 BGB onwards.

According to § 1767 (1) BGB, the adoption must be morally justified. This justification may be the case, for example, if the parents of the adult have died and the adult lives with another family member. It may also be the case that the adult has a distant relationship with their parents while they maintain a closer relationship with the adopting person.

In addition to the adoption to solidify the relationship between the parties involved, the motivation may also lie in purely pragmatic reasons. This is usually the case because of the advantages in inheritance and tax law that come with adoption. However, such reasons must not be the determining factors.

Inheritance and Tax Law: What Advantages are Associated with Adoption in Germany?

The advantages of adoption under inheritance and tax law are manifold. For example, adoption can be beneficial when transferring a property to the adopted child. Under German law, children, including those of full age, can receive a tax allowance of up to €400,000 as part of a gift or inheritance. For more distant relatives and non-relatives, however, this is not an option. For example, the tax allowance for nieces and nephews is only €20,000. Adoption can therefore be in the interests of the testator and the inherited. The tax rate itself also varies depending on the degree of the relationship. While this is about 7% for children and grandchildren, the tax rate for non-relatives is about 30%.

It becomes clear that the legal status as a child created by adopting the adult becomes more attractive, especially if the adult is to enjoy the full benefit of the inheritance. Accordingly, adopting an adult (be it a distant relative or a close friend) plays a role in practice, particularly when a wealthy family has no children and wishes to pass on its assets to another person.

Indeed, the courts are usually aware that tax advantages often play a significant role. However, an application is rarely rejected for this reason alone. As long as the legal requirements (explained later in this article) are met, such an adoption may also be legitimate. However, it must be shown that the adoption is not being made solely for these considerations. This proof can cause difficulties in practice. It must be clear from the documents served on the court that the adoption is sought primarily because of a particularly close relationship between the adopter and the adopted person. It may be advisable to seek legal advice before submitting the relevant documents for adoption to avoid any adverse consequences in the adoption proceedings.

Requirements for the Adoption of an Adult in Germany

Tax and inheritance reasons cannot be used as the main reason for adoption. Instead, the adoption must be “morally justified” according to § 1767(1) BGB. Such justification is to be assumed if a parent-child relationship already existed previously between the adopting and the adopted person.

Case law shows that courts tend to regard an adoption as not “morally justified” if there is a fundamental suspicion that financial reasons are the primary motivation. Such an adoption application is, therefore, usually not granted. In a decision by the Stuttgart Higher Regional Court in 2014, for example, an aunt was denied permission to adopt her nephew because the court considered the reason for the adoption to be primarily financially motivated, despite the close relationship. In doing so, the court emphasised that the person concerned had a healthy relationship with his own parents and also lived with them. This illustrates that a third parent can be an aggravating factor in adoption proceedings.

Evidence of a close relationship between adopter and adoptee may succeed if the following conditions are met:

  • A close personal relationship over a long period,
  • A parent-child-like age difference between the persons concerned,
  • A serious intention to take care of each other in case of financial or health problems.

It is worth mentioning that it is not necessary to be related for adoption. In most cases involving the adoption of an adult, this is indeed the case. However, should a person wish to adopt a non-relative, this is not legally objectionable, provided the above factors are proven.

What is the Adoption Procedure in Germany?

In the context of the adoption of a person of full age, an application must first be made to the family court, cf. § 1768 BGB. The application must

  • set out the reasons why the adoption should take place (in accordance with the above-mentioned criteria),
  • declarations of consent by both parties (the adopter and the person to be adopted) as well as
  • consent of the spouse (if applicable).

It is advisable to consult a lawyer to explain the reasons for the adoption in order to increase the chances of successful adoption proceedings. Our family law team will ensure that your application complies with the legal requirements and that the “parent-child relationship” is sufficiently set out. However, it must be taken into account that the court will also consider whether the adoptive parents already have natural children when making its decision. Since they will be involved and heard by the court in the adoption proceedings, it is advisable to inform and involve them sufficiently before filing the application.