Genetic Link Is Not Enough for Children to Receive Social Security Benefits

In Astrue v. Capato, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with the Social Security Administration’s interpretation of the word “child” as found in the Social Security Act. The court found that biological children conceived by assisted reproduction technology after the death of a parent cannot receive Social Security benefits unless they can show that they would have been able to inherit from that parent under their state’s intestacy laws. This decision resolved a split among appeals courts on the issue.

The case originated in Florida, where two children conceived after their father’s death using frozen sperm applied for Social Security benefits. Initially, the benefits were denied because the court found that they did not qualify as children under the Social Security Act. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed this decision, finding that although they were conceived after the father’s death, they were indisputably his children. The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed.

Some key points to take away from the court’s decision include:

  • When a child is conceived and born after a parent’s death, the child can only qualify for Social Security benefits if the child was entitled to inherit in intestacy.
  • The court reasoned that the Social Security Administration’s interpretation better comports with the Social Security Act’s text and overall purpose.
  • The Social Security Act is designed to provide support for those who depended on a deceased wage earner during his or her lifetime. The court found that treating children conceived in this manner is rationally related to the government’s intent to aid children who have suffered the hardship of losing someone they depended on financially.
  • Even if there is another reasonable interpretation of the Social Security Act, the Social Security Administration’s interpretation is a permissible one and entitled to a certain level of deference.

Ultimately, decisions regarding whether children conceived after the death of a parent qualify for Social Security benefits depend on the relevant state’s intestacy laws. Many states have not addressed the issue of postmortem conception in their laws regarding inheritance.

If you have any questions regarding Social Security benefits, an experienced Florida attorney can provide diligent legal guidance.

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