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What happens to frozen embryos after the death of a parent?

On Behalf of | Apr 15, 2024 | Estate Planning & Probate

Advances in Assistive Reproductive Technology (ART) have given many couples the option to freeze their embryos for future use. But what if one or both intended parents pass away? What happens to the unused genetic material, and who decides what to do with them?

Can facilities destroy unclaimed frozen embryos?

Many challenges may arise if one or both intended parents of the embryo die and there is no will or estate plan in place. Aside from legal battles, here are other potential issues.

  • Uncertain fate: The embryos might end up abandoned in a storage facility indefinitely, incurring storage fees, or worse, destroyed due to an apparent lack of ownership.
  • Disagreement among heirs: Misunderstandings between inheritors can arise, especially if some want to use the embryos while others do not.
  • Financial issues: The economic responsibility of embryo storage may take a toll on the estate or the surviving family.

It may also add emotional stress to the surviving family if their deceased loved one’s wishes are not honored.

Including the embryos in an estate plan

Without a will or an estate plan, there is no clarity on what happens to frozen genetic material like embryos. This is a highly sensitive and hot-button issue, especially in the wake of court decisions regarding the status of frozen embryos in other states.

Thus, a court may intervene and consider factors like the surviving partner’s wishes, prior agreements between the couple, and even the embryos’ status as potential life.

Estate planning can provide transparency and respect for the deceased’s last wishes. These wills or estate plans may include options like designating a new embryo recipient (like a trusted relative or friend) or donating them to another couple who is struggling with fertility.

It is crucial for couples who underwent fertility treatments such as freezing embryos to include it in an estate plan to ensure their embryos are handled according to their values and beliefs.