Can you ask a court to unseal decades-old adoption documents to determine who your birth parents are, if the information affected your estate planning?
It’s unlikely that the Surrogate’s Court would unseal those records for that purpose, especially since intestate inheritance rights of the birth parents are cut off (and vice versa) once the adoption decree goes through.
Adoptions are largely private matters and documents from adoption can be sealed by the court once the adoption decree is final.
It's not impossible to have a court unseal those records. But it isn't easy. Under New York law, the only way you can have those records unsealed is to show good cause. That's usually for a medical reason.
Recently, a woman in Nassau County asked a judge to unseal her adoption records because she wanted to find out if her birth mother was Jewish.
The court didn't consider this to be "good cause," writes Thomson Reuters News & Insight. In response, however, the court did provide the woman with the information that her birth mother was Protestant. According to New York Public Health Law 4138-c(3), the religion of the birth parents is information that can be provided to an adopted child without unsealing the records.
This type of question has been brought before New York courts in the past. The desire to become a Hungarian citizen was compelling enough for the court to unseal the records of an adopted man, to determine if his birth parents were Hungarian, writes Thomson Reuters News & Insight.
But in a different case, the desire to be part of the basketball draft in Puerto Rico wasn't compelling enough.
Now, as mentioned earlier, medical reasons can be sufficient to unseal those records. So in planning a health care directive, there might be times when the Surrogate's Court could be petitioned to unseal those records. This could be the case where the information on the birth parents or possible siblings would be necessary for a transplant, perhaps.
It wouldn't be unwise for an adopted child to include a provision in the health care directive, referencing the adoption, in case the need to unseal the records ever arose.
- Search Directory of New York Estate Planning Lawyers (FindLaw)
- What are the Inheritance Rights of Adoptive Children? (FindLaw's New York Estate Planning News)
- Adoption Basics (FindLaw)