After the US Supreme Court issued its decision in Dobbs on June 24, 2022, women’s equality and reproductive freedom were completely diminished by the state of Tennessee. How does the Dobbs decision impact estate planning? Here are some questions to consider:
Question: Will children born outside of my marriage have a claim to my estate?
Our opinion: Yes. Tennessee law dictates that Minors inherit from their parent’s estate.
How would a forced pregnancy affect a man who did not intend to become a parent?
We are not family law attorneys, and if you become aware of a pregnancy by a previous sexual partner, we encourage you to speak to an experienced family law attorney to discuss your options. Please keep in mind that many issues related to child support, pregnancy, and parental rights will be subject to new interpretations of the law under Dobbs.
However, there are laws in Tennessee that protect minor children from being disinherited by their parents.
For example, if a man dies, all of his minor children are able to inherit from him. While he can disinherit unknown, nonmarital adult children through his will, he cannot disinherit minors, even if he has a Will.
So let’s say a man lives in Tennessee and gets a sexual partner pregnant. If he dies while the child is a minor, the mother can petition (on behalf of the child) for a share of the estate. She will have to prove paternity but the child can be acknowledged in multiple ways. This includes communications with the father or testing the paternity via the DNA of the father or his other children.
Yes, you can be proven a father even after you are dead. It doesn’t matter if this child is born before or after the children of your current marriage or relationship- if they are under 18 when you die, they can ask the Court for a share of whatever you left behind.
Question: What is the impact of Dobbs on Estate Planning for those who expect to need fertility treatments?
Our opinion: We don’t know yet.
This is a really tricky area. My best guess is that matters related to artificial reproductive technologies (ART) will be legislated faster than before. We will know more about the impacts on individuals and families as matters work their way through the courts.
As your Estate Planning Attorney I will recommend that we plan for everything, including unborn children
If you’ve ever made an estate plan with an experienced estate planning attorney, you’ll know that we ask some pretty personal questions about your family planning.
That’s because we usually try to make our plans flexible enough so that future children can be included without needing to pay an attorney to update your Will or Trust. However, we will probably need to update documents more frequently given recent changes to the law.
Additionally, we will want to make sure that we try to be specific enough in our drafting to disinherit unplanned offspring from outside of relationships. The same goes for any previously frozen biological material that could potentially grow into a fetus. Yet another impact of Dobbs on estate planning to consider!
As fetal cells attain more rights, estate administration may become more difficult
As cells are legislated to have rights of their own, it will become more difficult to administer estates. For example, let’s say that a man dies after having frozen embryos with his ex-wife. By many state laws, those are now “children” under the legal definition. It would not be unfair for the ex-wife to say she is the mother of children who outlive him and should inherit his estate. If at some point those children were implanted-whether in the ex-wife or someone else- they would have needs as they grew older and the father’s assets could pass to them. However, it’s more likely that these cells would never be implanted or may be implanted but not be carried to term, at which point, who inherits from the embryo?
Question: What else should we be thinking about?
Our opinion: A lot of things will need to go through the Courts before we have final answers. In the meantime, here are some things I expect:
- Higher insurance premiums
- Higher medical bills
- Fewer OB/GYNs
- Fewer fertility clinics
- More single fathers.
- Push to create a biological/DNA database to track parents/putative parents.
- Doctors will be unwilling or unable to provide appropriate medical treatment for women undergoing miscarriages. This will make undergoing fertility treatments especially dangerous if you have had problems carrying a pregnancy to term.
- By effectively creating a system where there are two patients in one body, the law in many states now creates a conflict in the standard of care. The doctor will not be able to take direction from the pregnant person. This will cause more lawsuits against fertility specialists and other OB/GYNs. More lawsuits mean higher malpractice rates, which mean even higher costs for patients.
- Many surrogates will no longer be willing to help couples create families.
- Frozen embryos will no longer be intentionally destroyed.
- Fertility clinics may become unwilling to create embryos for future use if they will be unable to destroy the biological material.
- Many more babies will be available for adoption. So will older children.
- Fewer women will consider using ART, because the inherent risks of pregnancy will no longer be treatable.
- There will be fewer medical advances for difficult pregnancies due to women choosing not to have children.
- Young adults will begin long-term contraception at earlier ages.
These are just some things I’m considering as we enter this new legal landscape.
The implications of the Dobbs decision is completely unknown. However, we do know that it will have a huge impact on Estate Planning. If you’re looking for an attorney in Nashville who can create a thorough will, look no further. Attorney April Harris Jackson will consider everything, including the implications of Dobss on family planning.