There are three types of non-agency adoptions: adult adoptions, stepparent adoptions and parental placement adoptions. Adult adoptions typically do not result in the conflict and controversy that can be created in the latter two types of adoptions. The rights of the biological parents are implicated in both stepparent adoptions and parental placement adoptions. If these types are done with the consent of the biological parents then their parental rights must be terminated before the child can be placed with the adoptive family. Further, in almost all parental placement adoptions, an investigation must be completed as regards the child’s biological parents, the prospective adoptive parent(s) and the home situation of the child. There may be hearings as well to determine the best interests of the child in both stepparent and parental placement adoptions. There can even be a full trial where there are disputes over parental rights, the best interest of the child and/or the qualifications of the adoptive parents. Above all else in an adoption, the entire process is governed by a quest for determining the best interests of the child.
Each state in the United States and each province in Canada has a special department which deals with the affairs of children, youth and families, including child adoption. Some counties have a similar department. These departments go by many different names, and may be a part of the state's department of social services or human services. They provide services, case management, and permanency planning for children who wait in foster care. Some also approve families for adoption.
A child is not an asset like a house that gets willed to whoever you choose. In these situations, a court and/or child services will protect the child's rights and well being, if there are no legal guardians. If the child's mother has died, you are still one of the two legal guardians. If your mother becomes the second, that doesn't mean you stop being a legal guardian. If your mother then dies, you are still a legal guardian. The two slots do not have to be filled, one is enough. If you are stripped from your parental rights, your mother adopts, then dies, then the court will decide. If she wills that you again become a legal guardian, that does not undo the stripping of your rights.
When my wife and I adopted our son, we were told that we needed to hire multiple attorneys. One to represent the birth mother. One to represent the child. One to represent the birth father. And one to represent us. When we adopted our daughter we needed even more. One for the child. One for the birth mother. One for us. And one for each of the three possible birth fathers! We were outnumbered! Since no agency was involved, the attorney fees, the home study and the court costs were our only expenses. And when it came time to file our income taxes we claimed the adoption tax credit and were reimbursed the entire amount. Both times. We were fortunate. Adoptions can be, and in most cases are much more expensive.