Children of Assisted Reproduction vs. Old Dynasty Trusts: A New Approach

57 Pages Posted: 26 Sep 2019 Last revised: 11 Aug 2020

See all articles by Kristine S. Knaplund

Kristine S. Knaplund

Pepperdine University - Rick J. Caruso School of Law

Date Written: 2020


Today, thousands of children are born each year using assisted reproduction technology (ART), including assisted insemination, in vitro fertilization, and gestational carriers, and the numbers continue to rise. Many of these children are not genetically related to one or both of their parents because donated gametes are used; in cases where a gestational carrier gives birth, the intended parents may adopt the child even if they are the genetic parents. Some of these ART children may find themselves clashing head on with old dynasty trusts that presume that adoptees are excluded from class terms such as “issue,” “descendants” or “grandchildren,” and require all beneficiaries to be related by blood to the settlor. Two recent cases, McGehee v. Edwards, 268 Va. 15 (2004) and Matter of Doe, 7 Misc. 3d 352 (N.Y. 2005) have raised this issue, but we are likely to see many more in the next few years.

Will courts treat ART children just as they have treated adopted children, parsing the difference between “issue,” “lineal descendants,” “heirs of the body,” “heirs,” and other class terms; debating whether the writer’s intent or public policy should prevail; and raising questions about whether a change in the common law presumption may or should be applied retroactively? Or should an entirely different approach be used, one that allows us to avoid extensive litigation, the invasion of privacy that extensive DNA testing would produce, and the inevitable stigmatization of children of same-sex couples who can’t be biologically related to both people raising them? This article examines the language of 74 old wills and trusts, ones that are already up and running and cannot be amended, to see if there is a better way to deal with ART children. Can the trustee use doctrines such as decanting to solve this dilemma? Can courts be persuaded to broaden their approach so that trustees or executors can accurately predict what these terms mean, and not flood the courts with requests for instructions? I will propose solutions that might just do that.

Keywords: Artificial reproduction technology, dynasty trusts, DNA, right of privacy, decanting, adoption, same-sex

Suggested Citation

Knaplund, Kristine S., Children of Assisted Reproduction vs. Old Dynasty Trusts: A New Approach (2020). 57 San Diego L. Rev. 301 (2020), Pepperdine University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2020/16, Available at SSRN:

Kristine S. Knaplund (Contact Author)

Pepperdine University - Rick J. Caruso School of Law ( email )

24255 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, CA 90263
United States

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