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How reproductive technology complicates the meaning of 'heir'

In estate planning, we talk a lot about heirs. That’s because a huge part of estate planning has to do with establishing who will inherit a person’s assets upon his or her death and how those assets will be passed down from there.  

Decades ago, defining a person’s heirs was easy. Legally speaking, an “heir” refers to parties who will inherit based on the rules of descent and distribution. Historically, these individuals have been genetically, biologically or legally related to the person creating the estate plan -- such as children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and so on.

However, the advancement of reproductive technologies has complicated the definition. Today it is possible, through the freezing of eggs, to have a decedent who is not related to the person creating the estate plan in any of the ways mentioned above.

As a result, children conceived using reproductive technology could be left out of the standard legal definition of heirs, and therefore left out of the estate.

For that reason, people must now consider whether they want their estate plans to contain language that extends the definition of “heirs” to decedents who are born using assisted reproductive technology, a recent article from Forbes said.

Forbes recommended asking adult daughters if they had elected to freeze their eggs -- something that many employers are now paying for -- to find out if this is an issue that you will need to address with your estate planning lawyer.

Of course, this is a unique matter within the larger issue of who you would like to leave your estate to. Under the law, children aren’t automatically entitled to an inheritance, as we discussed in a past post, so it is up to you to make sure that your assets are passed down as you wish through an effective estate plan.

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