The illegitimate child who emerges from obscurity to claim a family inheritance is a staple of Victorian melodrama. Today, some families are grappling with a 21st-century twist on that narrative—one where the child is conceived years after a parent’s death, with the help of frozen sperm or eggs.
You might say that planning for your estate is about tying together all of the loose ends of your life. That’s always been easier said than done. However, it seems with every passing generation our lives get that much more complicated. Medicine, especially fertility medicine, continues to baffle the legal system. The perfect example of that is posthumous progeny (how is that even a phrase?) through cryogenics, in-vitro fertilization (IVF), and entirely understandable timing. It’s been in the news before, but MarketWatch recently took up the topic in an article titled “Your frozen sperm could inherit your estate.”
Inheritance, unless you plan otherwise, legally flows from generation to generation or simply the closest kin in lieu of that next generation. It’s an age-old concept and logically follows the nature of human reproduction. On the other hand, that can get pretty complicated when people no longer reproduce as they always have in ages past (i.e., the “old-fashioned” way).
Artificial insemination for reproduction is a different concept entirely; there are enough legal battles just beginning to prove how murky it can become (i.e., child-support required of a sperm donor.) Artificial insemination plus cryogenic preservation of sperm/egg samples gives rise to the possibility that neither the father nor the mother need be alive when his or her children are born, and not by a short time frame either. For many couples, that’s expressly the point with this technology and medical advances. Many preserve genetic material so that they can ensure future children, say, before going into military service or before starting an invasive medical regimen like chemotherapy.
Daily life has subtly begun to incorporate these new medical advances well before the legal system has had a chance to take it all in. This means you must be all the more aware of the new potential loose ends of your life as you set about to plan for your estate. If you’ve preserved or donated genetic material, it’s a topic worth thinking about.
Reference: MarketWatch (May 30, 2014) “Your frozen sperm could inherit your estate”
Image Credit: ICSI sperm injection into oocyte Courtesy: RWJMS IVF Laboratory; Public Domain August 2005 by Ekem