Survivor Benefits for Unborn Children: Supreme Court Ruling Sides With State Law

Estate Planning Practice Group

By Estate Planning Practice Group

The Supreme Court ruled on May 21, 2012 in Astrue v. Capato that twins conceived through in vitro fertilization after the death of their father were not eligible for survivor’s benefits through the Social Security Administration, upholding the Social Security Administration’s previous determination. According to the Court’s opinion, Mr. Capato lived in Florida at the time of his death. Under Florida law, the children do not qualify for inheritance through intestate succession (the children are not considered heirs of their father’s estate) and are ineligible to receive survivor benefits.

Florida law requires that in order for children to qualify for an inheritance, they must be born or conceived prior to the death of the parent. Because the Capato children were born 18 months after the death of their father, they were not considered to be his children for inheritance purposes under the law. Consequently, the Social Security Administration determined that the children were not eligible for survivorship benefits.

Unlike Florida, Missouri statute provides that all posthumous children (children born after the death of a parent) inherit as if they were born during the lifetime of the deceased parent, as do grandchildren and further descendants. However, other heirs, such as siblings or cousins, must be born and capable to take their share, prior to the death of the deceased.

Therefore, while the Social Security Administration may still take the position that children must be born or conceived in order to receive Social Security survivor benefits, it seems that the Supreme Court could determine that Missouri statute provides for children conceived after the death of a parent.

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