Law School Case Brief
Woodward v. Commissioner - 435 Mass. 536, 760 N.E.2d 257 (2002)
Limited circumstances may exist, consistent with the mandates of the Massachusetts Legislature, in which posthumously conceived children may enjoy the inheritance rights of "issue" under Massachusetts intestacy law. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 190. These limited circumstances exist where, as a threshold matter, the surviving parent or the child's other legal representative demonstrates a genetic relationship between the child and the decedent. The survivor or representative must then establish both that the decedent affirmatively consented to posthumous conception and to the support of any resulting child. Even where such circumstances exist, time limitations may preclude commencing a claim for succession rights on behalf of a posthumously conceived child.
Plaintiff wife gave birth to twin girls. The children were conceived through artificial insemination using her deceased husband's preserved semen. When the wife applied for Social Security survivor benefits, defendant Commission of Social Security denied the benefits, concluding, among other things, that the children did not qualify for benefits because they were not entitled to inherit from the deceased husband under the Massachusetts intestacy and paternity laws. The wife appealed to the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, which certified this question to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts: if a married man and woman arrange for sperm to be withdrawn from the husband for the purpose of artificially impregnating the wife, and the woman is impregnated with that sperm after the man has died, will children resulting from such pregnancy enjoy the inheritance rights of natural children under Massachusetts' law of intestate succession?
Where a wife's husband died and she was then artificially inseminated with the now-deceased husband's sperm, would the posthumously conceived child enjoy the inheritance rights of "issue" under the Massachusetts intestacy statute?
Yes, under limited circumstances
The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts advised that to answer the certified question, it must consider whether and to what extent such children could take as intestate heirs of the deceased genetic parent consistent with the purposes of the Massachusetts intestacy statute, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 190, and not by any assumptions of the common law. Further, the state court indicated the question whether posthumously conceived genetic children could enjoy inheritance rights under the intestacy statute implicated three powerful state interests: the best interests of children, the state's interest in the orderly administration of estates, and the reproductive rights of the genetic parent. Keeping this in mind, the state court answered that in certain circumstances, a child resulting from posthumous reproduction may enjoy the inheritance rights. These limited circumstances include, where it is demonstrated: (1) a genetic relationship exists between the child and the decedent, and (2) the decedent affirmatively consented to posthumous conception and to support of any resulting child.
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