June 2, 2012

Astrue v. Capato - Posthumously Born-Children

A recent Supreme Court Case addressed the eligibility of posthumously born-children in regards to social security survivors benefits. Of note, a posthumous child is one who is born after the death of the parent. Yes, it applies to both men and women.

In 1999, Robert Capato was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. Concerned that his cancer treatment would cause him to become sterile, Robert donated his sperm to a sperm bank as a preventative measure. Still, following his initial treatment, Robert remained fertile and he and his wife, Karen, conceived a son. Unfortunately, Robert's condition worsened and he succumbed to cancer in 2002 while residing in Florida. 18 months later, Karen gave birth to twins as Robert's deposited sperm had been used to impregnate Karen. In vitro fertilization was used because the Capatos wanted their son to have a brother or sister.

Thereafter, Karen applied for social security survivors insurance benefits on behalf of the twins. The claim was rejected by the Social Security Administration because Florida law stated that a child could inherit through intestate succession only if conceived during the decedent's lifetime. Of note, the SSA utilizes state intestacy law when determining eligibility for social security survivors insurance benefits. Since Robert was domiciled in Florida when he died, that jurisdiction's law applied to the SSA's determination. Since the twins were born after Robert passed away, posthumous that is, they were ineligible to receive social security survivors benefits.

The Supreme Court held that the SSA ruled correctly, i.e. it correctly relied on Florida law in making the determination, and denied the Capato twins social security survivors insurance benefits. I will spare you the boring explanation of statutory construction, which is what this case represented. Yes, not all Supreme Court cases involve the federal constitutionality of a statute, ordinance, initiative, etc. 

For comparative purposes, California has a more expansive view of posthumous children.  The Golden State allows for the establishment of a parent-child relationship if certain conditions are met. To name a few of the requirements, the deceased parent must state in writing that their genetic material can be used for posthumous conception, a person must be designated by the deceased parent to control the use of the genetic material and the child must be in vitro within 2 years following issuance of a certificate of a decedent's death. Prob C § 249.5.