When Apple and Facebook made news recently for paying the expenses of their female employees to freeze their eggs, chances are you didn’t think it would have any effect on your estate plan. But if you have a daughter or a granddaughter, you may be mistaken.
If either decides to use assisted reproductive technology and freeze her eggs, you’ll need to consider whether to include unborn descendants in your estate plan.
And now that Apple and Facebook are offering egg-freezing coverage as a benefit, other employers are likely to follow suit — perhaps one where your daughter or granddaughter works, or will one day.
(MORE: 9 Steps to Getting Your Estate In Order)
Defining Children, Descendants and Heirs
Generally speaking, for estate planning purposes, children, descendants and heirs refer to people who are genetically, biologically or legally related to you. Egg freezing, however, increases the chances that you may have a descendant who is neither genetically nor biologically related to you. Then it’ll be up to you to decide whether to include him or her in your estate.
Scientific breakthroughs may now mean that you’ll want your estate lawyer to draft language in your will that includes descendants born using assisted reproductive technology. Defining whom you intend to include as children, grandchildren, heirs and descendants determines who will inherit what you leave upon your death.
(MORE: What You Should Tell Your Heirs While You're Around)
The Estate Complexities of Frozen Eggs
The growing phenomenon of freezing eggs can lead to tricky estate-planning situations. For instance, imagine this scenario: Your daughter has her eggs frozen, but dies before she can have a child. Her instructions leave those eggs to her husband. Then he has the eggs implanted in a gestational surrogate. Is that your grandchild?
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Ignoring how assisted reproductive technology could play a part in your estate plan can be a significant error. Someone you want to include as an heir may be wrongly excluded and another you have no intention of including could be brought in to share in your estate. By specifying whom you do and don’t want to include, you retain control over your estate.
Here are five tips to help ensure your wishes are carried out:
1. Find out if your adult daughter or adult granddaughter is freezing her eggs or intends to. Yes, this conversation can be awkward, but it isn’t about you becoming a grandparent or a great grandparent. If you plan to have the talk, do it privately and explain why.
2. Once you learn that egg freezing has happned or might, decide how you want to handle this in your estate plan. Children are not entitled to inherit anything from you. It’s up to you — or you and your spouse— to determine who’ll inherit your estate. If you’re married, you and your spouse need to talk about this.
3. Be specific in your estate documents. Sure, no one is entitled to a share of your estate, but do you want to leave someone out simply because of a legal definition?
4. Don’t settle for generic documents. Online estate plan forms do not, as a rule, let you change definitions of children, grandchildren or heirs. Using an estate lawyer helps you get the inheritance results you intend.
5. Be sure to bring up the subject with your estate lawyer. Don't expect that she or he has thought about it. Many lawyers haven’t considered the implications of egg freezing or discussed them with their clients. They may also think the standard legal definitions of children, grandchildren and heirs are sufficient for your will. If someone in your family has frozen her eggs or you think might, talk this out with your lawyer to be sure your estate instructions are as clear as necessary.