The case of Nadia Sulaiman, the so-called "Octomom," whose delivery of octuplets earlier this year galvanized so many people, has spurred outrage and debate over the use of in vitro fertilization.

But Dennis I. Belcher, a partner in the Richmond, Va., law firm of McGuire Woods, hopes it will also start a dialogue among trust attorneys and estate planners about the ever-changing and burgeoning world of genetics and reproductive technology and its impact on their clients.

The laws of parentage and inheritance rights resulting from the use of artificial reproductive technology is murky and difficult to predict, says Belcher, a past chair of the American Bar Association's Section of Real Property, Estate and Trust Law and president-elect of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel.

Issues involving advances in genetics and reproductive technology require trust attorneys and estate planners to consider thorny issues like the inheritance rights of children conceived and born after the death of the father, or the ownership rights of frozen embryos or sperm, and other topics that were unheard of a mere 20 to 30 years ago, Belcher says to illustrate his point, Belcher notes that with today's technology, healthy sperm can be extracted within a day after a man's death, frozen and then used to conceive a child years later. Could a mother, then, produce an heir to a large estate well after the death of the father? Can children produced by using frozen sperm or embryos-after a parent has died-claim an inheritance? What if the father didn't give his permission before his death? Do children who are artificially conceived after the death of a parent have the same inheritance rights as their siblings?

These are just some of the pressing questions facing trust and estate practitioners today, Belcher says.  Right now, there is no uniform rule book; laws are being created from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and local courts are making decisions based on individual cases.

But with thousands of babies being born each year as a result of assisted reproductive technology, Belcher says it's important for planners to talk to their clients about their reproductive game plan and their dispositive plan for any child born of science.

We recently spoke to Belcher about the brave new world of reproductive technology and other issues facing trust and estate practitioners today.

Q: How does assisted reproductive technology impact estate planning?
A:  It's now possible for individuals to have children born after their death.  Think of the circumstance of a newlywed couple and let's say one of the spouses is diagnosed with some form of cancer but they want to have children and they know that when the husband goes through radiation treatment he will not be able to father children.  Healthy sperm can be frozen for years and then used to conceive a child, so the husband goes to a sperm bank and donates sperm and goes through with his treatment. In several of these instances, the husband has died and because the couple had previously talked about having children, the widow impregnated herself with her deceased husband's sperm and has had a child.

Q: What are some of the issues this raises from an estate planning perspective?
A: The child's deceased father had no control over the birth of that child. He deposited the sperm, but is that sufficient indication that he was releasing all control over that donation? These are discussions we are currently not having. Think about it. If the mother can go in and keep having children fathered by a deceased individual, you have an open door and the door never closes. It creates all sorts of issues. What has happened is the law has not kept up with the science And it's not until people start talking about these issues that we can start figuring out what the norm is. It's a hot topic on the seminar circuit. It's being talked about at high level but not in the mainstream. But we don't talk to our clients about this stuff-whether they have stored genetic material or written instructions about [whether they want any children conceived] to inherit from their estates, because it hasn't happened to us yet. But it is out there and sooner or later it's going to be a problem with one of our clients and we are going to wish we had spoken to them about it.  A perfect example of this is the area of adoption and inheritance. When I first graduated 30 years ago, adopted children did not inherit with natural born children. But today, the law has moved so far along so that now adopted children inherit the same as natural born children unless there is a prohibition. That is the uniform rule and I can see in the future that children born after the death of a parent will follow the same path. But it will take wide acceptance of the new biology before people and legislatures will get comfortable with the topic.

Q: Have there been any significant changes that have occurred between 2008 and 2009 that would require clients to rethink their estate plans?
A: There have been two significant changes that would require clients to look at estate planning. The economic meltdown is one and the second is the significant increase in the estate tax and the generation-skipping transfer tax from 2008 to 2009. The federal estate tax exemption increased from $2 million per person to $3.5 million. That means each person may transfer at death up to $3.5 million of assets without the imposition of a federal estate tax. In addition, the generation-skipping transfer tax also increased to $3.5 million. That means that some estate plans may be based upon assumptions that may no longer be accurate and some may give results a person may not want. For example, let's say you have a client that has $10 million and last year, in 2008, the estate tax and generation skipping tax was $2 million. The client says at my death I want that exemption amount to go to my grandchildren because $8 million is enough for my wife to live on. But now let's say that person's wealth has been reduced to $5 million because of all the financial turmoil and now it's 2009. The estate generation skipping tax exemption is now $3.5 million, so now, that exemption amount goes to the grandchildren and the surviving spouse will only receive $1.5 million to live on.

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