Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Finding Digital Immortality

Intellitar 2What if you could have "eternal digital life"?  This was made possible by the start-up company Intellitar, which created a service allowing customers to generate digital avatars of themselves that loved ones could interact with long after the persons’ death.  “Customers uploaded a photo of themselves to Intellitar’s ‘Virtual Eternity’ website, took a personality test, provided a voice sample and then trained their avatars’ ‘brains’—an artificial-intelligence engine—by feeding it stories, memories and photos.” 

The company was not successful and shut down in 2012.  According co-founder and former CEO of Intellitar, Don Davidson, the company’s failure was because of an expensive legal dispute.  One other company, Eterni.me, is working on a similar service but the technology is “still in its infancy.”  

See Kashmir Hill, This Start-Up Promised 10,000 People Eternal Digital Life—Then It Died, Fusion, Apr. 9, 2015.

April 14, 2015 in Estate Planning - Generally, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

First Baby Born Free of Inherited Disease

MeaguCarmen and Gabriel Meagu knew that if they were to have a child, he or she would be at high risk for inheriting a rare form of muscular dystrophy that would make day-to-day living very difficult. 

Fortunately, a groundbreaking technique pioneered by fertility doctors in London enabled the Meagu's to birth a child healthy and free of disease.  The latest technique, known as karyomapping, takes only a short amount of time and can pick up a range of diseases.  To isolate the genes responsible for the disease, doctors took DNA swabs from Mrs. Meagu, her mother, and Mr. Meagu.  They subsequently compared the gene sequences to see which section of the genetic code was defective and responsible for the abnormality.  The couple then underwent a normal IVF cycle, but the embryos created from the procedure were biopsied to find out which ones were free of the genetic disease.

This new procedure gives hope to parents who are concerned about passing on genetic diseases to their children.  “I would recommend it to any other mother who is worried about passing on an illness,” said Mrs. Meagu, “Lucas is absolutely perfect.  He is really big for his age, and healthy.  I have peace of mind now that he is going to be ok.”

See Sarah Knapton, First Baby Born From IVF Technique Which Eliminates Inherited Disease, The Telegaph, March 28, 2015.   

March 31, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Article on Challenges Facing the Posthumously Conceived Child

Test tubesAndrew T. Peebles (J.D. Candidate, University of Missouri School of Law, 2015) recently published an article entitled, Challenges and Inconsistencies Facing the Posthumously Conceived Child, 79 Mo. L. Rev. 497-515 (2014).  Provided below is the article’s introduction:

The use of artificial reproductive technology (ART) has increased sharply in recent decades as families plan ahead in the face of such difficulties as disease and military service that raise doubts as to whether reproduction will be possible for an individual in the future.  Posthumous conception of children is a widely used form of ART, and it allows families to expand, even after the death of one of the parents.  In vitro fertilization is the newest form of this technology.  But for the posthumously conceived child, the difficulties continue as most states bar these children from inheriting Social Security survivor’s benefits from a deceased parent.  The Supreme Court of the United States case of Astrue v. Capato ex rel. B.N.C. has recently given authority to this inequality, holding that posthumously conceived children are eligible for such benefits if they qualify as a “child” under state intestacy law. However, the Court’s decision in this case has left several problems unresolved that will continue to plague courts in the future and will lead to further inconsistent decisions and disparities for children born through in vitro fertilization.  Due to the rise in the use of this innovative technology, these issues affect an increasing portion of the population.

This Note will discuss the problems with the Supreme Court of the United States’ decision, the inconsistencies that exist in state intestacy law, and the solutions that are necessary to remedy these challenges.  Part II gives a brief background of the facts and circumstances surrounding Astrue.

Part III discusses the history of the Social Security Administration and in vitro fertilization and points out the conflicting results from various jurisdictions that have dealt with this issue.  Part IV delves into the Supreme Court’s reasoning behind its decision in Astrue.  Finally, Part V comments on the reasons Astrue was poorly decided, the difficulties that will result from the decision, and the methods to resolve these complications.

March 26, 2015 in Articles, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession, Non-Probate Assets, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Article on Technology and Probate

CellphoneJason E. Havens (Property & Probate Magazine, Technology--Probate Editor) recently published a column entitled, Cloudy Choices: Desktops, Laptops, or Mobile Devices? from the Technology Probate section, 29 Probate & Property No. 2, 49 (March/April 2015). Provided below is an excerpt from the article:

During the past 10 years, radical changes have occurred in the personal computer market. Many of those changes originated in the mobile computing arena, some traceable to what used to be known as a cellular telephone. Now a so-called smartphone can easily process everything from documents to spreadsheets to presentations, along with crisp photographs, videos, and Internet browsing.

Some trust and estate lawyers are intrigued by the history of these devices, chronicled in biographies and films about the late Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, but most want to know which devices will assist them in producing work. This column will survey some popular products and platforms that this editor has used.

March 21, 2015 in Articles, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Time Capsule App

AppImagine a social app that allows you to communicate with friends and family both in the present and up to 50 years in the future—even after you are gone.  Whether you want to leave a last will and testament or send a greeting, the “What’s After” app may revolutionize the way we share ourselves and memories over time. 

The WA-app offers many possibilities to communicate with others, including private chat and social dating.  The app sends memories as text, pictures, audio or video after your passing away has been confirmed, making you globally connected and “virtually eternal.”

See PR Newswire, WA-App: The Time Capsule App That Makes You Virtually Eternal, SYS-Con Media, March 9, 2015.

March 9, 2015 in Estate Planning - Generally, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 6, 2015

Where Does Your Genetic Data Go After Death?

DNA 2While we may have an idea as to where our digital data goes when we die, what about our most personal digital information: our genes?  Millions of Americans are sharing their genetic information using services like 23andMe and OpenSNP. 

Some scientists, doctors, and bioethicists are worried that we have not figured out if and when to share our genes from beyond the grave.  Because we share lots of genetic information with our parents and siblings, some deem DNA “shared property,” to which relatives should have a right.  Yet, this can get tricky as we share different parts of DNA with different family members.  Moreover, there are patient privacy laws protecting what doctors can reveal about their patients—even posthumously. 

This week, four Dutch scientists published an opinion advocating granting family members access to sequenced DNA only if it is explicitly requested.  The scientists wrote that this would respect the deceased person’s privacy, while also allowing relatives who actually want the information to get it from doctors and genetic counselors. 

Until further guidance is provided, the best course of action would be to impart genetic information while you are still alive.  “I counsel all patients to share clinically relevant genomic findings with their relatives while they are alive,” Rebecca Pentz, a bioethicist at Emory School of Medicine says.  Alternatively, you could upload all your data for anyone to see.

See Daniela Hernandez, What Happens to Your Genetic Data When You Die? Fusion, March 4, 2015.

March 6, 2015 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Article on Private Contracts and Digital Assets

Natalie Banta

Natalie M. Banta (Stetson University College of Law) recently published an article entitled, Inherit the Cloud: The Role of Private Contracts in Distributing or Deleting Digital Assets at Death, 83 Fordham L. Rev. 799-854 (2014).  Provided below is the article’s abstract:

We live in a world permeated with technology.  Through our online accounts we write emails, we store pictures, videos, and documents, we pay bills and conduct financial transactions, we buy digital books and music, and we manage loyalty programs.  Digital assets have quickly replaced physical letters, pictures, books, compact discs, and documents stored in filing cabinets and shoeboxes.  The emergence of digital assets raises pressing questions regarding the treatment of digital assets at an account holder’s death.  Unlike digital assets’ physical counterparts, an account holder does not control the ultimate fate of digital assets.  Instead, digital assets are controlled by a private contract entered into by an account holder and a company that provides services or digital products.  This Article explores the growing conflict between traditional succession practices and digital asset succession, which is controlled by digital asset contracts.  It begins by tracing the development of private contracts as a method of transferring assets at death and shows that although contracts are regularly used to transfer assets at death, digital asset contracts have taken an unprecedented step of prohibiting or severely limiting the transfer of assets at death.  This Article next explores the prevalence of digital assets and explains how service providers address digital asset inheritance in private contracts.  It argues that digital asset contracts that deny inheritance may be validly formed but should be void as a matter of public policy because they transfer decision-making power about assets from an individual account holder to corporations.  As our control over the ultimate fate of our digital assets diminishes, the nature of our property interests in digital assets also shifts away from our traditional understanding of ownership of personal property.  It argues that we should take a conscious approach to reforming succession law based on time-honored principles of American succession law that benefit society as a whole and not allow private contracts controlling digital assets to hijack our system of inheritance.  This Article concludes by offering suggestions for reform and action before the ability to transfer and preserve digital assets falls beyond our reach.

February 23, 2015 in Articles, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 16, 2015

Three-Parent Babies Destined for the U.S.?


I have previously discussed how lawmakers in the United Kingdom voted in favor of three parent babies.  Yet, things are moving at a much slower pace in the United States as scientists debate the safety and ethics of trying the experimental technique in humans. 

Although it is a long way from any fertility clinic, it could work as follows: Doctors would extract an egg from the mother carrying bad mitochondria. They would remove the nucleus from that egg, and with it, the genetic traits mom would pass down to her kids. Then, they would implant that nucleus inside another egg donated by a different woman, an egg with healthy mitochondria. Fertilize that egg with dad's sperm, and in theory, you would end up with a baby free of mitochondrial disease. But, because mitochondria do contain their own DNA, any child produced this way would inherit a small fraction—far less than one percent—of their DNA from that second woman. That's why some have called this technique three-parent in vitro fertilization.

Many skeptics of this procedure think manipulating embryos to this extent could put medicine on the slippery slope toward designer babies.  Paul Knoepfler, a UC Davis School of Medicine professor believes the U.K. vote was premature.  He said this technique would create genetically modified humans and he worries that using it in as an attempt to stamp out mitochondrial disease could lead to equally bad developmental disorders or miscarriage.  He also points out that any unexpected problems in children born this way could become hereditary.  “We’re talking about permanently changing human DNA.  And so I think it is reasonable to think about how this could have repercussions for many generations in the future.” 

See David Wagner, Is U.S. Ready for ‘Three-Parent’ Babies?, KPBS, Feb. 16, 2015.

February 16, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

ULC Acts Approved by ABA House of Delegates

ABAAt the mid-year meeting of the ABA House of Delegates held on February 9th, the House approved the three ULC acts that were before it: the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, the Uniform Recognition of Substitute Decision-Making Documents Act, and the Amendments to the Uniform Voidable Transactions Act.  All three acts were on the consent calendar of the House of Delegates.

Each of these acts were made possible by the excellent work of the drafting committee chairs—Suzanne Walsh, David English, and Ed Smith; reporters Naomi Cahn, Linda Whitton, and Ken Kettering; and to all the members of the three drafting committees, their ABA advisors, and their observers. 

Special thanks to Brittany Gaddy (Uniform Law Commission) for bringing this memorandum to my attention. 

February 11, 2015 in Estate Planning - Generally, New Legislation, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Britain Votes in Favor of 3-Parent Babies


I have previously discussed Britain’s proposal to allow scientists to create babies from the DNA of three people, a technique that could protect some children from inheriting potentially fatal diseases from their mothers.  On Tuesday, Britain’s House of Commons gave preliminary approval to move forward with this bill. 

Before becoming law, the bill requires approval by the House of Lords and further Commons votes on any amendments.  If this occurs, it would make Britain the first nation to allow embryos to be genetically modified. 

The vote in the House of Commons was 382-128 in favor.  No date has been set for debate in the House of Lords but it is expected to be in the next few weeks. 

See Maria Cheng, UK House of Commons Oks Making Babies from DNA of 3 People, Associated Press, Feb. 3, 2015.

February 4, 2015 in Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)