The Changing Definition of the Word Child
You feel good. You have a will and other estate planning documents that carefully provide for your children and possibly even your grandchildren. But does your will define the terms child and grandchild or, when the time comes, will your estate lawyer in Philadelphia or elsewhere have to rely on the state of Pennsylvania’s default definitions? If you or your children have had to rely on assisted reproductive technologies (ART) such as in-vitro fertilization or frozen embryo transfer to conceive, you may want to contact your probate attorney and ask about the implications to your will of stored genetic material such as sperm, embryos and eggs.
Your estate attorney can help in a variety of ways. First and foremost, your attorney will confirm Pennsylvania’s default definitions of the terms child and grandchild. If your wish is to also provide for children/grandchildren conceived and born through ART, and the default definition does not include this, you may end up disinheriting children born through those means if you do not modify the verbiage in your estate planning documents to include them. The documents your attorney will need to check and possibly modify include your will, trust documents, and powers of attorney. Discuss with your probate lawyer the need to modify other terms such as niece, nephew, descendant, and heir.
How your stored genetic material can be used should you die or become incapacitated is also a serious consideration, with the most basic question being if you want your genetic material saved for future use, destroyed, or donated. The same question should be answered in the event you get divorced. Other questions you will want to answer include how long your material should be stored, who pays for storage, and if your spouse or partner can destroy the material or use it to conceive a child after you die. And what will be the inheritance rights of children born through ART, including if that child even has rights as your heir? For example, if your genetic material is used for a child to be born through a surrogate mother, can that child inherit from your estate?
Assisted reproductive technologies have been helping people conceive and have children since the early 1980s. As good Philadelphia estate lawyers see on virtually a daily basis, unintended actions can arise if you have not reviewed all the legal implications and taken steps to protect yourself, your family, and your child. This article provides just a sampling of everything you need to consider if you have stored genetic material or conceived or given birth to a child through ART.