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Supreme Court Finds Posthumously-Conceived Twins Not Eligible for Social Security Survivors Benefits; Regulations Referencing State Inheritance Law Control

May 24 , 2012
by: ASRM office of Public Affairs
Published in ASRM Bulletin Volume 14, Number 29

Today in Astrue v. Capato, the United States Supreme Court found that twins conceived 18 months after the death of their father are not eligible to receive Social Security survivors benefits because the applicable state law does not allow them to inherit.

Karen Capato gave birth to twins 18 months after the death of her husband, Robert, who died of cancer.  She conceived the children through IVF using sperm her husband had had frozen and stored.   When the twins were born, Ms. Capato applied for Social Security survivors benefits for them.  Her application was denied and the denial was affirmed by the District Court of New Jersey, which found that under the US Code, the twins would qualify for benefits only if they were qualified to inherit from their father under the intestacy law (regarding inheritance without a will) of Florida, the state in which Robert Capato was domiciled at the time of his death.  On appeal, the Third Circuit decided differently, saying that the undisputed biological children of an insured and his widow qualify for survivors benefits without regard to state intestacy law. And today, the Supreme Court reversed the Third Circuit ruling.

Writing for the Court, Justice Ginsburg said, “We find the Social Security Administration’s ruling better attuned to the statute’s text and its design to benefit primarily those the deceased wage earner actually supported in his or her lifetime.  And even if the agency’s longstanding interpretation is not the only reasonable one, it is at least a permissible construction entitled to deference.”

Read the Court’s opinion here:

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