Family Diversity
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Today's family structures make estate planning more complicated
The Chattanoogan / November 7, 2004 / by Martin Pierce

Todayís many nontraditional families can cause significant headaches (or worse) when it comes time to determine who gets what after a death occurs. Among ďfamilyĒ types that are now not uncommon are unmarried couples, spouses who have been married more than once, adoptees, stepchildren, and children born outside of a conventional marriage or with the assistance of medical technology. With the advance of reproductive procedures, children can be conceived who have an anonymous or unknown biological father or, in some cases, who are conceived after the death of one of their parents.

Obviously, these types of relationships have a significant affect on estate planning and inheritance. The laws in many states simply do not provide guidance for many of these situations when it comes time to divvy up the inheritance. The results range from hurt feelings, the occurrence of injustices, and sometimes litigation.

Letís take a look at just a few of these situations and the problems created:

Inheriting from unmarried parents. In the past, these children had no inheritance rights from the father. Most states have rectified this problem and now permit children of unmarried parents to inherit from their mothers and, upon meeting the individual stateís proof and timing requirements, these children may well also be able to inherit from their biological fathers.

Adopted children inheriting from ancestors. State laws vary concerning whether or not an adopted child can inherit from an ancestor other than the adoptive parent. For example, some states require the child to have been adopted as a minor in order to qualify as a grandparentís descendant.

Post-death conception. Many states provide that a child born within nine months or so after a parentís death is nonetheless entitled to inherit from the deceased parent and other ancestors of that side of the family. But what about a child conceived after a parentís death. Due to medical advances, conception can now sometimes occur well after a biological parentís death. The states have been slow to take into account a host of fertility and technological advances in this area.

What should you do? Until laws catch up to medical and societal realities, children conceived with the aid of reproductive technologies or who are part of an untraditional family should be very specifically provided for (or specifically omitted) from the estate planning documents of parents, grandparents and those who potentially or arguably may fall into either class. These people must be sure their estate plans address these childrenís rights, one way or the other.

Those who find themselves in these circumstances should have an estate planning professional prepare, review or revise their estate and retirement plan documents, as well as insurance policies and annuity contracts. Because the legal issues in these and other areas become more complex every year, a do-it-yourself approach is not an option and even seeking general professional help may be perilous. You should depend on a certified estate planning specialist in such circumstances. Let me know if you have questions or if I may be of assistance to you or your family members.

Martin Pierce is a Business and Tax attorney who is Certified as an Estate Planning Specialist.



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