An applicant qualifies for a child's Social Security survivor's benefits if he or she meets the Social Security Act's definition of "child," and would have been eligible to inherit from the decedent under state intestacy laws at the time of the decedent's death.
Eighteen months after her husband died of cancer, respondent Karen Capato gave birth to twins conceived through in vitro fertilization using her husband's frozen sperm. Karen applied for Social Security survivors’ benefits for the twins. The Social Security Administration (SSA) denied her application, and the District Court affirmed. In accord with the SSA's construction of the Social Security Act (Act), the court determined that the twins would qualify for benefits only if they could inherit from the deceased wage earner under state intestacy law. The court then found that Robert was domiciled in Florida at his death, and that under Florida law, posthumously conceived children do not qualify for inheritance through intestate succession.
Can the widow claim benefits for her children born after the death of her husband?
The Court held that the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) reading is better attuned to the statute's text and its design to benefit primarily those supported by the deceased wage earner in his or her lifetime. The Court noted that Congress' aim was to provide dependent members of a wage earner's family with protection against the hardship occasioned by the loss of the insured's earnings. Where state intestacy law provided for a child to take from a father's estate, it could reasonably be thought the child was likely dependent during the parent's life and at his death. Reliance on state intestacy law served the driving objective. Under the completed definition employed by the SSA, § 416(h)(2)(A) referred to state law to determine the status of a posthumously conceived child. The Court posited that the SSA's interpretation of the relevant provisions, adhered to without deviation for many decades, was at least reasonable and was entitled to deference.