With apologies for the (only somewhat) click-bait title, in an answer to another question (see this answer) the statement

Typically the only thing a legal entity that is not a natural person cannot do is sign a marriage contract.

was made. Some commenters disputed this, asking, e.g.,

Can a business become a (natural) child's legal guardian, can a business have power of attorney over a (natural) person, etc.?

This got me curious:

Can any legal entity adopt a child?

Or does one, perhaps, need two corporations to do this? Of course, the answer to the above may be a simple "no" for trivial reasons, but my question is really closer to asking the looser question:

What is the most ridiculous thing a legal entity can do that one would only expect a natural person to be able to do?

I'm happy with any interpretation of "ridiculous", here. As pertains to jurisdiction, I've put the tag for starters, but I am interested in other jurisdictions too, e.g., the UK (one commenter mentioned that corporations frequently vote in elections in the City of London).


3 Answers 3


In the US, adoptions follow state law. Here is the law for Washington state. RCW 26.33.140 says that "Any person who is legally competent and who is eighteen years of age or older may be an adoptive parent". The word "person" does not have a statutory meaning under this title, thus it has its ordinary meaning. There are discussions in case law regarding the "person" status of corporations, but those extensions of the meaning "person" involve extending a constitutional right which refers to a "person" to corporations. A corporation can hold property, enter contracts, and sue and be sued just like a person, and from the earliest days esp. Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 17 U.S. 518, the US courts have recognized that corporations as having the same rights as natural persons to contract and to enforce contracts. But corporations can't vote or get married. So, in Washington you have to be a person-person. And, presumably in all states.

  • 3
    Colorado law is comparable but one must be twenty-one years old to adopt. codes.findlaw.com/co/title-19-childrens-code/…
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 6, 2022 at 21:03
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    Does the 'who is x years of age' legally imply a natural person? Of course a legal entity also has an age but basing any rulings on the age would seem strange.
    – quarague
    Sep 7, 2022 at 7:03
  • I think you need to be more specific when you say corporations cannot vote. Not in a political sense but certainly at an AGM of a company they have shares in.
    – Neil Meyer
    Sep 7, 2022 at 10:17
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    It is also worth noting that corporations in the US have a tremendous amount of influence on law making. One example being Disneys influence on copyright law giving rise to certain copyright law somewhat derisively being called mickey-mouse-laws
    – Neil Meyer
    Sep 7, 2022 at 10:20
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    Actually, there are some U.S. elections (mostly in special districts where property owners are allowed to vote) where corporations can vote, but it is the rare exception. I agree that an age limit legally implies a natural person.
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 7, 2022 at 14:59

In Germany a legal person can't adopt a person, but can be the legal guardian ("Vormund") if a child has no parents. There are special "Vormundschaftsvereine" (associations for guardianship), typically charitable societies. They need a permission of the state and shall only be appointed as a guardian by the family court, if no natural person as a volunteer guardian is available, § 1791a BGB.

I don't know, how often this is done. The association can't get any payment for the guardianship (§ 1836 III BGB), so the normal case seems to be that a employee of the association is appointed as a natural person.

From 2023 this will be the only option (and clearly named in § 1774 I Nr. 3 BGB new). The guardianship of the association is not longer possible.

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    This happens in the US as well. The "legal person" is usually a non-profit organization, for example Boy's Town or other similar residential care communities. Not technically an adoption, but more than just foster care.
    – bta
    Sep 8, 2022 at 18:13
  • No adoptions in Germany?
    – RonJohn
    Sep 8, 2022 at 23:13
  • @RonJohn Only humans can adopt a person in Germany. What is your question?
    – K-HB
    Sep 9, 2022 at 12:32
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    "In Germany a legal person can't adopt a person, but can be the legal guardian ("Vormund") if a child has no parents." To me, that means no adoption. Thus... no adoption in Germany?
    – RonJohn
    Sep 9, 2022 at 16:23
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    No adoption for a legal person ("juristische Person"), but adoption is possible for a natural person (human, "natürliche Person"). I thought this is clear.
    – K-HB
    Sep 10, 2022 at 14:25

, (partially)

In theory, yes.

Interpretation Act 1976, Schedule 1:
“Person” includes a body of persons corporate or unincorporate. [Applies to legislation after 1889]

Adoption and Children Act 2002, Section 51:

  1. An adoption order may be made on the application of one person who has attained the age of 21 years and is not married or a civil partner.
  2. An adoption order may be made on the application of one person who has attained the age of 21 years if the court is satisfied that the person is the partner of a parent of the person to be adopted.
  3. An adoption order may be made on the application of one person who has attained the age of 21 years and is married if the court is satisfied [of various conditions]

In practice, no.

While "one person" may include a body corporate, the conditions under which a person may adopt cannot be satisfied by a corporation. While it cannot marry (and could theoretically satisfy the marriage condition of s.51(1)), it cannot "attain an age". Different terminology is used for the age of corporations.

The word person occurs over 500 times in the Act, but it is not separately defined and in many cases it could refer to a corporation. To rely on a particular construction of half a dozen words is either a marvel of concision or an enormous lapse.

There are other safeguards, in that a judge has to be satisfied of the suitability of the prospective adopter before making an order. The practicalities involved in caring for an adopted child would make the nebulous arrangement of adoption by a company difficult to justify as "suitable".

  • And in practice the courts will follow the recommendation of the local authority's social services department, who will definitely advise against! Sep 8, 2022 at 9:49
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    Interestingly though a child can be made a "ward of court" or placed into foster care with a governmental entity.
    – Caltor
    Sep 8, 2022 at 10:41
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    Could a company that has been in business for 21 years not be said to have "attained an age of 21 years"? How does the terminology for corporations differ?
    – Pharap
    Sep 8, 2022 at 19:20
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    There is a crucially important part of the Interpretation Act 1978 missing here; Section 5 (emphasis added): "In any Act, unless the contrary intention appears, words and expressions listed in Schedule 1 to this Act are to be construed according to that Schedule. ". A contrary intention appears in the Adoption and Children Act by way of the words "attained the age" and "not married". So, the answer is no both in theory and in practice.
    – JBentley
    Sep 9, 2022 at 9:23
  • I also edited your jurisdiction tag as Section 1 of the Interpretation Act 1976 (which gives effect to Schedule 1) does not apply in Scotland and Section 51 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 does not apply in Scotland or Northern Ireland.
    – JBentley
    Sep 9, 2022 at 9:29

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