The United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that children conceived via artificial insemination after their father's death are not entitled to Social Security benefits if they are not eligible to inherit property from him under state law, according to the Denver Post.
The case at issue involved twins born to Karen Capato 18 months after the death of her husband, Robert, in 2002.The Social Security Administration denied the twins survivors' benefits. This determination was upheld by the Supreme Court yesterday.
The crux of the case, Astrue vs. Capato, No. 11-159, rested on the Court's interpretation of relevant provisions of the Social Security Act.
"The technology that made the twins' conception and birth possible, it is safe to say, was not contemplated by Congress" in 1939 and 1965, when those provisions were enacted, wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaking on behalf of the unanimous court.
The purpose of the law, wrote Ginsburg, was "to benefit primarily those supported by the deceased wage earner in his or her lifetime."
She further wrote that the provision at issue granted deference to the states in determining whether the unborn child would be considered a child of the deceased parent for purposes of inheritance after death.
The Capatos lived in Florida, and Robert Capato's will was executed there. Accordingly, Florida probate law governed the end result in this case. Under Florida law, a child born after a parent's death must be conceived before that parent died to inherit property from that parent.
Because state laws take different approaches on this issue had this case occurred in a different state, such as California, children conceived post death would be entitled to receive social security benefits based on the particular state's inheritance laws.
Ginsburg said that looking to state law to decide eligibility for Social Security benefits was "a workable substitute for burdensome case-by-case determinations whether the child was, in fact, dependent on her father's earnings." She added, that it was up to Congress to change the law at it currently stands.
"Tragic circumstances — Robert Capato's death before he and his wife could raise a family — gave rise to this case," she wrote. "But the law Congress enacted calls for resolution of Karen Capato's application for child's insurance benefits by reference to state intestacy law. We cannot replace that reference by creating a uniform federal rule the statute's text scarcely supports."
The court's decision was primarily based upon judicial efficiency as its decision provides clarity in this area of the law and will prevent similar challenges from reaching the nation's high court in the future.
Accordingly, those contemplating artificial insemination should familiarize themselves with their state's intestacy laws so that they can avoid the unfortunate result that the Capato children realized in this case.
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