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In-vitro twins lose out under Florida probate law

Readers in West Palm Beach may want to take notice of a recent ruling by the United States Supreme Court that illustrates the heightened importance of estate planning for couples facing difficulties conceiving children. The high court concluded that twins conceived by in-vitro fertilization after their father's death are not eligible for Social Security benefits under Florida's laws of intestacy. The decision demonstrates that children born through modern fertilization techniques, in the absence of an effective estate plan, may be deprived of any inheritance from a deceased parent.

The twins were conceived from frozen sperm donated by their father before he died from cancer. Because the twins were conceived after the death of their father, Florida law does not regard them as legal heirs. The father had prepared a will, but never updated it in anticipation that his frozen sperm might give rise to future children. The will named the couple's only living son and two children from the father's previous marriage as the sole beneficiaries of his assets.

Under Florida's laws of intestacy, if the father had died without a will, half of his assets would have passed to his wife, while the other half would have passed to his children from the prior marriage. Even under the terms of the existing will, the couple's first child will benefit from the father's estate, but the twins may be left with nothing of their father's legacy.

Some states recognize children conceived after the death of a biological parent as the parent's legal heirs, but the law in many states has not yet evolved to keep pace with changes in medical technology. In states where probate law hasn't quite caught up yet, comprehensive estate planning early in life becomes especially important.

Florida couples who anticipate any possibility that children might be conceived after the death of a parent will want to have a good understanding of how future children might be affected by our state's probate law.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "No Benefits for Twins Conceived After Father's Death," Jess Bravin, May 21, 2012

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