How You Should Modify Your Estate Plan After an Adoption

A happy family, parents and a girl

When a person adopts a child, he or she should review and update an estate plan to ensure beneficiaries receive their benefits as smoothly as possible. Modifying the estate plan ensures that major life changes are reflected, the right people are included, and the parents’ wishes are carried out after they’re gone.

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Adoption – Your Forever Home

About Town Deb Presents City Talk: Adoption - Your Forever Home

Say hello to my first sponsor, and guest of this week's #CityTalk, Kimberly Surratt of Surratt Law Practice! November is #NationalAdoptionMonth, and to raise awareness, I will be chatting with Kim about all things adoption. 👨‍👩‍👧 Kim has been working in Family Law for 16 years and it has grown into her passion. Starting in 2004, with her first surrogacy matter, she has immersed herself in assisted reproduction law, surrogacies, and adoption. 👨‍👨‍👦

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Adoption During a Pandemic

An adult's hand holding a different skin color child's hand

An already lengthy adoption process has been impacted by the restrictions imposed by COVID-19 social distancing policies and travel restrictions. The global pandemic has influenced methods of in-home inspection, travel safety, and the need for a safe and consistent home. Though a global crisis presents prospective parents with a new list of challenges to overcome, many states are looking to keep processes moving forward in hopes of safely placing ready to adopt children in homes.

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Top 5 Tips for Appearing in a Nevada Court via Internet Device

Zoom washoe county court case

By: Melissa L. Exline, Esq.

In Nevada, many Courts are continuing operations using “audio/visual” equipment.  In Washoe County, this has included programs such as Zoom.  The Judge, Court Clerk, along with a court reporter are present to run the Court.  This has been a learning process for all involved.  Having participated in Court this way for the past month, here is a top 5 tip list for a person appearing in family court in Washoe County:

  1. Dress as if you are going to Court. You still want to look like a nice, respectable person.  First impressions cannot be re-made – so start out on the right foot.
  2. Practice with your equipment at home and feel free to ask if your lawyer has done this too. You do not want to be figuring this out with the pressure of court looming.
  3. Let your attorney be your guide. He or she still knows the players involved better than you do, and Court etiquette still applies.  It can be hard to figure out when to speak up, so it is good to have a plan with your lawyer on how you want to be heard if everyone is talking.
  4. Have a plan on how to talk to your lawyer. Either use the chat features on the application (practice this in advance), or have a plan to email/text/be on the phone with your lawyer while all the other stuff is going on so you can make a private point with your lawyer (when this is permissible) with your attorney.
  5. Manage your expectations on what you can get out of court. This applies for video court or not – but the point is important.  There is only so much time and your lawyer will know which points to make and in what order.  Not everything gets done the way you want it to be, but getting some things done in a tumultuous time is going to have to suffice for now.

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2020 Adoption Tax Credit

Happy couple with little adopted children eating popcorn while watching TV at home

By Kimberly Surratt, Esq.

If you are thinking about pursuing an adoption, make sure you start to start and document all of your expenses related to the process.  In the United States tax code provides an adoption credit for qualified adoption related expenses for each child adoption.  The IRS just released the 2020 adjusted through their Revenue Procedure 2019-44 report.  The maximum tax credit allowed in 2020 is set at $14,300 per child (in 2019 is was $14,080 and $13,810 in 2018).  In addition to a credit, the IRS does allow an exclusion from income for employer provided adoption assistance.

The tax credit is available for must adoptive parents.  However, the credit is not available if the taxpayer’s income exceeds certain values set by the code.  The tax credit begins to phase out for families with modified adjusted gross income in excess of $214,520 and is completely phased out for taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income of $254,520 or more.  The credit is nonrefundable but can be carried forward for up to five years.

The code states that the credit is allowed for “an adoption of a child with special needs”; however, the adoption can be either through private domestic private adoption, international adoption or through the foster care system so long as the child is under the age of 18, or is physically or mentally incapable of self-care.  In contrast, the adoption of your stepchild does not qualify as “special needs”.  The IRS has specifically declared that an adoption by a registered domestic partner who lives in a state that allows same-sex second parent or co-parent to adopt his or her partner’s child does qualify for the credit, as long as those expenses otherwise qualify for the credit.

The expenses that can be used for the credit and the exclusion (the “qualified adoption expenses”) are:

  • Reasonable and necessary adoption fees,
  • Court Costs and attorney fees,
  • Traveling expenses (including amounts spent for meals and lodging while away from home), and
  • Other expenses that are directly related to and for the principal purpose of the legal adoption of an eligible child.

In summary, keep all your receipts and track you any money spent in the process.  The IRS doesn’t require you to have a child identified before the expenses can be used.  Thus, if you start the process and you have had a home study, but you have not been matched with a child you will still be able to use the cost of the home study for your tax credit.  There are extensive rules about what year you can take the credit and they vary based on a domestic adoption versus a foreign adoption.  For more information, the IRS has a published report, Topic No. 607 that lists all of the intricacies to the credit.

State Insurance for Surrogates Bill Passes Thanks to Local Attorney Kimberly Surratt

Focus on pregnant woman touching her belly. Happy married couple are sitting on sofa and embracing on background. Surrogacy concept

Kimberly Surratt, Northern Nevada, Reno surrogate lawyerInsurance companies in Nevada can no longer discriminate against a woman for acting as a gestational carrier (aka surrogate) when it comes to health insurance.  In the 2019 Nevada Legislative Session, Kimberly Surratt requested a bill to prevent insurance companies from discriminating against surrogates.  Assemblywoman Bea Duran (Democrat, Las Vegas) sheparded AB 472 through the legislative process and worked to ensure its passage.  The bill received significant support from the Nevada Justice Association, the Nevada Association of Health Plans and the Nevada State Medical Association.

The bill passed both houses of the Legislature unanimously.  The new law is effective January 1, 2020.  The new law provides that an insurer offering or issuing health insurance in Nevada including coverage for maternity care shall not deny, limit or seek reimbursement for maternity care because the insured is acting as a gestational carrier.

In 2013, Nevada became a nationwide force in Assisted Reproductive Technology Law when Ms. Surratt and Assemblyman Jason Frierson worked together to pass comprehensive statutes modernizing Nevada’s Assisted Reproductive Technology law.  That law provided for  Surrogacy/Gestational Carrier agreements.  Since then, because some insurance companies declined to cover surrogacy pregnancies, Nevada has seen surrogacy numbers decline.  For individuals shopping for insurance coverage in the individual marketplace in 2019, there were no  options for Nevada women choosing the path of surrogacy.

Ms. Surratt asked the Nevada Legislature to help assure that an insurer may not decline coverage of routine maternity services because the insured woman is acting as a surrogate for another family.  During the process, Sarah Paige of ART Risk Financial & Insurance Solutions was enlisted to provide expert testimony on the issue.  Ms. Paige testified that Nevada went from one of the most progressive States for reproductive law to a State with more challenges because of the limited insurance options.

Getting the bill passed was difficult.  No other State has similar legislation for Nevada to model.  Instead,  a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision interpreting the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) was used as guidance in testimony and discussions with the Legislators.  Mercycare Insurance Co. v. Wisconsin Commissioner of Insurance held that excluding surrogates from maternity care was discrimination because it excluded some women from coverage based on how conception occurred.  The insurance commissioner in Wisconsin stated that the inquiry of insurance companies into how a woman conceived was "intensely personal."  He stated, "to give an insurer license to inquire into why a woman is pregnant or whether she intends to keep her baby would be improper."  The Wisconsin Supreme Court found that "An insurer may not make routine maternity services that are generally covered under the policy unavailable to a specific subgroup of insureds, surrogate mothers, based solely on the insured's reasons for becoming pregnant or the method used to achieve pregnancy."

Additionally, the ACA mandates maternity care.  Opponents to the bill initially argued that the ACA doesn’t mandate maternity care for surrogates.  We were steady in our position, with critical assistance from Sarah Paige, that the ACA mandates maternity care for all women without an exclusion for women who are pregnant as a surrogate.

During the legislative process, a concern was raised that the Nevada bill would add an additional mandate on Nevada insurers.  The Nevada Division of Insurance ultimately agreed with Ms. Surratt and Ms. Paige that it was not additional but rather an already mandated benefit that needed to be applied equally to all insureds.  This was significant because consequently the bill did not include a fiscal note.

The passage of this bill is significant for Nevada.  Even if the ACA is modified or eliminated, Nevada insurers will still be required to cover an insured when she is acting as a surrogate.

The new law also states that an insurer cannot seek reimbursement for maternity care provided to an insured acting as a surrogate.  In other words, insurers cannot rely on subrogation or a lien on the surrogate or the intended parents to circumvent the intent of the statute by going after a surrogate’s compensation.

Although public entities are not required under the new law to cover maternity care for surrogates, many of these entities currently cover an insured’s maternity care without discrimination.  Public entities may continue to cover an insured’s maternity care without inquiry into why she is pregnant.

Unfortunately, the law does not require an insurer to cover reproductive technology, such as in vitro fertilization, only the costs of prenatal care and delivery equally to any woman who is pregnant whether she is carrying her own child, or another family’s child.

There isn’t a reason why other States can not now follow suite

Important Changes with the Second Judicial District Court

Second Judicial District Court, State of Nevada, Washoe County

By Travis Clark, Esq.

From time-to-time the Second Judicial District Court makes fundamental changes to its operation that impact each and every litigant.  This includes all parties filing joint petitions for summary divorce, stipulations on custody, or filing for a review of child support.

In October of 2018, the Chief Judge Scott Freeman issued an Administrative Order making it mandatory for all litigants and attorneys to become “e-filers” in all cases.  The deadline to meet this requirement was October 18, 2018.  Thus, all new litigants after October 18, 2018, and all existing litigants without attorneys, are required to sign up for the Washoe County E-Flex System. This order comes on the tail end of a previous Administrative Order issued in October of 2015, mandating electronic filing in all Criminal, most Civil and Juvenile cases.  After a successful change from “paper” filing to “e-filing” the Chief Judge and Court administration implemented the sweeping change across all cases in the Second J.D.

This change comes at a time when most of modern society has gone “paperless.” However, the Judicial system is always slow to the uptake and this change comes at a time when the use of online services such as this aren’t just requested, they are demanded.

With that said, signing up is easy and quick.  The Court’s website makes it simple to apply for an account. Attached here is a link for quick access to sign up for a new account.

Learning how to e-file is a little more complicated; however, the Court does provide a PDF of Frequently Asked Questions for your review, and has a hotline to assist you with your filing needs, click here. 

Prudent attorneys will include detailed instructions for their clients in corresponding with their clients.  At Surratt Law Practice, we began including the following instructions in our communications with our clients:

E-filing is now mandatory at the Washoe County District Court.  The Court will not send out paper copies of orders or other documents.  Copies will only be provided from the Court electronically through the e-filing system. Since our firm has withdrawn from your case, we will not receive notice of future filings in your matter.  In order to receive notice of future filings, you must sign up for e-filing using a dependable email address. Here is the link to the Court’s e-filing page.  If you do not sign up for an e-filing account in your name, you will not be informed of orders and other important documents filed in your case in the future.  It is your responsibility to ensure you receive future notice by establishing an e-filing account as soon as possible

Use this article as a basis to update your matter and sign up for e-filing. Remember that when your legal issue is concluded, personal service may no longer be necessary for future filings, and becoming a registered E-filer is the only way to ensure you are promptly noticed of any issues in your matter.

Deciding Between Surrogacy and Adoption

Happy interracial family playing on floor

By: Kim Surratt, Esq.

It is common for our clients to have gone through heartbreaking stories of infertility.  They spend years trying infertility treatments.  They pour their hearts and money into treatment after treatment to no success.  Each and every time that a treatment fails, our clients experience a grieving period. They have the procedure and then wait to see if it worked. Over and over again. It is exhausting, physically on woman’s body, and emotionally on the couple.

During each waiting period, “baby fever” would set in and they shop for baby items.  However, the baby fever wears off and it turns to a fear of shopping for baby items.  They become bitter and slowly they decide to discontinue treatments and to stop pouring money into infertility treatments as they are mentally and financially exhausted from the process.

Most of our clients say that they want children, no matter the circumstances. It is an overwhelming power in the core of a person that says “I want to be a parent.”  They believe love for a child is unconditional and it does not matter to them whether the child was birthed by them, birthed by a third party or adopted.  They believe that they would love them all the same.   Yes, they are still drawn to the idea of genetics.  They are drawn to knowing their child will have characteristics similar to them.

These parents are often presented with the idea of surrogacy by their fertility doctor.   However, they are more familiar with the concept of adoption as it is a better understood concept in society.  They have to research both options and try to weigh the pros and cons of each, knowing that they just pray they will be parents one day.  Sometimes our job is to help them weigh the pros and cons to make a decision between adoption and surrogacy.

Obviously, an adopted child is not genetically that of the adoptive parents.  That is an easy differentiation to make between the two options and if the potential parents are set on having a genetically related child, then they have no choice but to look at surrogacy.

If genetics isn’t a selling point for the potential parents, then the next weighing point is the fear of the potential parents that the process will fail and they will not have a child as a result of the adoption process.  The risk tolerance level of the potential parents can easily be traced back to how many failed fertility treatments they have had in the past and their exhaustion level.

In surrogacy, if the surrogate achieves a pregnancy then there is a guarantee under Nevada and California law, if they followed the requirements of the law for a surrogacy, that a court of law will find that the intended parents are the legal parents of the child, not the surrogate.  The risk comes from whether the surrogate can get pregnant or not.  There is a failure rate associated with the process.  It is better explained by the doctors than by the lawyers.  However, the rate of success is controlled by things such as great screening of the surrogate, both physically and mentally, and the doctors use of a high-quality embryo.

In adoption, the risk of failure is high.  If the potential parents are looking at adopting an infant then they can sit on waiting lists for significant periods of time before birth mothers match with them.

Even after a match, the birth parents have a time period within which to revoke consent, usually 48 to 72 hours after birth, unless the they are in a state that follows the Uniform Adoption Act that gives eight days after birth for revocation of consent.   It is a devastating blow to the potential adoptive parents that mimics the effects of failed fertility treatment in which there is a build up and excitement of “baby fever” with no child in the end.  Another route to adoption is foster-to-adopt in which the potential parents become foster parents with the hope of adopting.  In those cases, the same buildup and disappoint that happens in infertility happens here.  A child is placed with the foster parents for a significant amount of time, but reunification of the child with their family is always the goal.  The children may be removed from the foster parents versus being made available for adoption.  The roller coaster feelings that happened during infertility come back into play.

There is nothing easy about this decision.  However, we find that parents who have not endured the exhaustion of infertility treatments tend to fair better in the adoption process.  They have the endurance and stamina to hang in there.  The adoption process can be incredibly rewarding.  However, if you are already exhausted from the roller coaster ride of infertility you may want to take a hard look at surrogacy as an option.

No matter what your journey – seek help!  Don’t do it on your own!  There are many people in the same boat as you with experience to share.  You can learn a lot in a one-hour meeting with an experienced attorney.  Our firm is here for you.  We give parentage advice all the time.  It is our goal to help you make the right decision for you.

The Adoption Journey

Today is my adoption day

This Is It

The phone was ringing again. And with every ring, her hopes increased with thoughts of, “This is it!”

For the two months they waited to have a child placed with them, she was more than ready and incredibly anxious. The decision to adopt was a deep spiritual knowing for her; she simply knew this was how they would bring another child into their family. The social workers had already placed a couple of children with them but that fell through for various reasons.

She had reached the point of deciding whether to remain on this tearful, emotional roller coaster. She summarizes her life philosophy with two sayings, “Bless it and send it” and “Lay it at the base of the cross”. She and her husband decided to use this philosophy in the adoption process.

The two of them agreed to be intentional about the child they desired. With that decision, they sat at the kitchen table with a pink post it note and brainstormed what they wanted in a child. They wrote very specific details on that pink post it note. The couple said a special prayer together. They then placed the pink post it note, with its scribbles detailing their child, underneath a cross on the fireplace.

Kids Are Her Life

Kim has been in the early childhood field for 31 years and has owned a preschool for the past 20 years. She was 39 years old with a 13-year-old daughter when she met Damon, her future husband. He had previously been married also but had no children. Kim feels that her husband is the kind of person made to be a Dad as he is so great with kids.

When they got married, they agreed that they wanted to have at least one child together. Yet, there was a problem. Kim had medical issues a few years back and did not think that she could physically have a child.

With this in mind, she and Damon obtained paperwork from the county to foster to adopt. They began completing the paperwork and taking the steps to make the adoption happen. Within two months of this, Kim was pregnant! They decided to stop moving forward with the adoption process for the time being.

The pregnancy was a little rough as she was “advanced maternal age and high risk” with much testing; which was scary for Kim with discussions about the various things that could be “wrong” with their son. Dylan was born healthy with no problems for either one of them.

An Only Child

Five years later, Kim and Damon’s son Dylan was 5 years old and in kindergarten. Their daughter, Hailey (from Kim’s first marriage), was 20 years old and in college, living on her own. They could see that their son was lonely at times. They really did not want him to be “an only” child. Hailey was essentially “an only” child as she was 15 years old when Dylan was born. Kim was also an only child and she despised it.

Kim was 45 years old and even if they could have another baby; she shares there was no way she was mentally or physically prepared to do that. The thought of a newborn was overwhelming to her. They also wanted a certain age difference between their biological son and his soon to be sibling. Kim and Damon knew they were not in a position to take on the responsibilities and time commitment of having an infant.

They had learned previously about the tremendous need for foster and adoptive families in the community. They really believed in the program. During this same time, Kim was at a fundraiser for her son’s school and another mom showed her the kids on the “Have a Heart” website. One little girl in particular really captured her attention. She could not get her mind off her. She and Damon talked about it and he was on board with learning more about the little girl.

They discovered that the little girl was in need of a very specialized home with no other children or pets due to her previous trauma and special needs. Kim so wanted to “save” her but she had to accept that she was not the child for them. However, the experience did serve as a very important stepping stone along their journey, as the little girl was the catalyst for inspiring them to begin moving forward again with fostering to adopt. This eventually led them to where they are today.

A Spiritual Calling

The desire to adopt a child became a spiritual calling for Kim. It was something that she felt a deep desire in her heart to make happen. She just could not let it go. She is not sure that Damon would say the same. Kim feels it was more about supporting her and a knowing that it was the right thing to do. He encouraged her and was along for the ride as he didn’t feel as compelled as she did to make this happen. Kim steered the ship and Damon was her shipmate.

Within two weeks of writing their intentions on a post it note and praying together, two and a half year old daughter Olivia came to live with them. She had been in foster care since 6 months of age.

This was a journey for their entire tribe as they had an incredible support system. Family, friends and neighbors stood by them throughout the entire 2-year process. Kim shares they are, and were, blessed to have such great encouragement as it took time to trust those on the outside of their tribe; those involved with the adoption process.

And even so, Kim doesn’t know how much you can really fully trust people when you have to be an advocate for your child. She feels the workers are well intentioned; but, they have a tremendous amount of responsibilities. She had to stay on top of things; making many phone calls and advocating for Olivia in order to get what they needed for their child.

The Process

They were required to take parenting classes as part of the adoption process. The classes covered what these children may be experiencing coming from difficult situations and preparing families for receiving a new child into the family. They were also provided with a transitional liaison who would check in with them periodically.

Kim and Damon were concerned about having medical background and history for the birth parents and early life of any child they considered adopting. However, there was very little medical history for Olivia as she was not born in a hospital. She did not receive medical care until she went into foster care at 6 months of age. She was tested for many health issues and all test results were negative.

It was known that Olivia’s biological mom has health issues and Olivia is known to have been exposed to drugs and alcohol in utero but it is not known to what extent. The foster mom has fostered hundreds of children with varying degrees of health issues. She reassured them that Olivia did not show any signs to be concerned about with her health or development.

Kim was able to love a child who was not biologically hers almost instantly. On the other hand, Damon felt an obligation to care for and protect her; but it took him some time to develop love for her. For him, the issue of being blood related seemed to be of more significance than it was for Kim. This was hard for her to understand and resulted in many in depth conversations between the two of them as they navigated all that adding another child to their family entailed.

Outside of Kim’s immediate family, their family’s concerns in the beginning were rooted in them taking on a child with special needs and the amount of time it would take away from their biological children. The family was concerned it would be overwhelming for Kim and Damon. Kim feels the family did have valid points and concerns as the young girl from the “Have a Heart” website who had captured Kim’s heart in the very beginning of this process, had extensive medical issues. She was viewing the situation through rose-colored glasses against the advice of those around her.

The range of emotions the family experienced throughout this entire process were diverse. Joy, anticipation, anxiety, sadness, empathy, frustration, anger, and worry are some of the emotions that Kim experienced.

They found the adoption system to be difficult. In Kim and Damon’s case, the biological parental rights had not been terminated. Going through that process was extremely emotionally difficult. Olivia’s biological mom fought against terminating her rights. This did not involve Kim and Damon. It was between the Department of Social Services and the biological mom.

However, they were required to be present at the trial. Kim could hear the biological mom sobbing as she relinquished her parental rights to her child. It was not a celebratory time for Kim as her heart hurt for that mom. She was flooded with empathy for her in that moment of listening to her sobs. Kim’s bond with her kids is incredibly strong and this was a trigger for her.

From the beginning of the process, the Department of Social Services wanted Olivia to have contact with the biological mom. It is always the Department’s process to reunite children with their biological parents or to have contact with them. The Mama Bear in Kim rose to the surface as she became protective, frustrated, and angry. She did not feel it was appropriate and thought it would be confusing for Olivia. In Kim’s view, the system did not seem to have Olivia’s best interest at heart. They took Olivia to a therapist and the therapist made the recommendation that having contact with the birth mom was not appropriate for Olivia. They were thankful that this put the issue to rest.

A New Normal

Kim shares there was a reality they all had to accept once Olivia was a part of their family. They had to adapt to a new normal. Big brother had really wanted a baby sister and after two weeks, he was done with her and ready for her to go back to where she came from.

For Kim, she knew that she needed to bond with Olivia and doing that meant she had to spend a great deal of time with her and somewhat re-parent her. There was much holding her, rocking her, singing lullabies, and tons of contact.

For Damon, he saw Kim’s bonding with Olivia as taking her time away from him, and he had to adjust to this. Even her older daughter had to adjust to there being another daughter.

However, as a family, they viewed this as all part of a normal and natural transition. They had a great deal of communication and conversations about the feelings everyone was experiencing. It took time and patience.


Kim finds it interesting how much other people are curious about their journey. People really want to know about it and she does not mind sharing. She has made it a goal to encourage and help other families to do what they did.

She has mentored two other families through the process. Her advice to others considering this journey is to be incredibly specific and detailed about what you are willing to do and not do. Kim feels there are so many children that need homes and this will help to not to be overwhelmed by the enormity of the need. Another piece of advice Kim shares is that kids are kids and they do not come with a guarantee. All we can do is handle things as they come up and do the best we can.

Adoption Journey with Legal Support of Surratt Law


Two years after beginning the process, setting and writing their intentions, Kim and Damon officially adopted Olivia!  I had the privilege of doing the adoption for them.  This family had one of the largest crowds I have had in the courtroom for an adoption!  The unique thing was that the foster family that first had sweet Olivia also came to the adoption hearing!

They are currently sending out announcements to family and friends to announce the finalization of the adoption! It will be a combination adoption party and 4 year birthday celebration for Olivia.

This is it!

They have their beautiful daughter Olivia and it has been a journey filled with the full range of emotions and much advocacy.

Time to celebrate!

Family Lawyers Also Bring Families Together

Wahoe county sees record number of adoptions news 2

By Rayna Brachmann, Esq.
One of the most rewarding aspects of being an attorney practicing family law is when I get to help families with adoptions.  I’ve had the pleasure of representing the Martinez family in their adoptions of all three of the children featured in this video.  They are a wonderful, giving and kind family, and it was an honor to assist them with the legal process that made their bonds with their children official.  They are just one of many families in Washoe County who have adopted children in need of homes.  The team at Washoe County Human Services Agency works hard to bring families together and it is one of the best parts of my job to be able to assist with the Court process to finalize adoptions.

See the original article on KTVN here.

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