A couple of days ago, I read an article on alternative reproductive technology, “ART,” and posthumously born children. It reminded me of conversations and cases about heirs that I’d also recently encountered. The article, conversations, and readings affirmed for me that the question of who is an “heir” or “issue,” while initially may seem simple to answer, can be complex.
Thirty years ago, the definition of “child” found in a will or trust may have been a few sentences. Today, that definition is – or should be – a few paragraphs.
Consider the following:
Jeremy and Jessica were in a loving, committed, cohabiting relationship for more than 10 years and were unmarried because they refused to institutionalize their relationship. Still they wanted to have a baby, but Jay was sterile. However, Jeremy’s best friend, Keith, agreed to b a sperm donor.
Eventually, they found a clinic that would perform the procedure and Keith was asked to sign a consent form. One statement on the form provided that Keith waived all rights of parentage with respect to the child that would be born to Jeremy and Jessica using Keith’s sperm. He was to check that box if he agreed with this statement. Keith thought about his significant other, Karen. He and Karen were also in a long-term relationship and discussed marriage and children a few months ago. But no definitive plans were made. Keith was in his early 40s and very successful; if he and Karen didn’t work out, he reasoned that this could be his only chance at quasi-parenthood. He decided not to check the box and think about it more but he signed the form.
Jessica underwent the procedure the day Keith signed the form. Then, the 3 left the clinic; Keith headed home to Karen. Unfortunately Keith never arrived home. He was killed when a deer darted out in front of his car and Keith swerved onto a patch of ice, careening him and his car into an oncoming semi-tractor trailer.
Karen was more than distraught because she was going to tell Keith about the bundle of joy that was produced when she and Keith had far too much to drink a couple of months ago.
Keith died without a will, so who will eventually inherit his estate?
Illinois law provides that posthumously born children are children of the decedent. Consequently, if both ladies were successful giving birth, then both children would have been Keith’s heirs.
This also illustrates the importance of another provision now becoming a standard in wills and trusts – the genetic reproductive material provision. If Jessica chose to store Keith’s sperm until a day she was more fertile and Keith died before that day with a will that had a genetic reproductive material provision, then Jessica could have been precluded from using his sperm.
Keith could have also changed the definition of children in his will to expressly disinherit any children born of ART except those born during the time he is in an intimate, cohabiting relationship with the mother of said child.
Still, all this presupposes that Keith would not have wanted 2 daughters.
The point? No one can predict who or what our family will be or look like, but when we make a decision about what part or all of that family may look like, we need to write it down in a legal instrument ASAP.