The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled on Tuesday that Social Security survivorship benefits are not available to posthumously conceived children. The case, Shafer v. Astrue, involves a mother who had children using her husband’s frozen sperm several years after his death.
Although the children were biologically the father’s children, the court said that the children did not qualify as eligible children under the Social Security Act because they were not able to inherit their father’s estate through the laws of intestacy.
Social Security survivorship benefits help many families cope with the loss of a wage earner. The Appeals Court wrote that the posthumously conceived children did not qualify for survivorship benefits because they could not have relied on their father’s wages prior to his death and because the father could not have supported the children through wages during the children’s lifetime.
The court argued that granting benefits to posthumously conceived children “would serve a purpose more akin to subsidizing the continuance of reproductive plans than to insuring against unexpected losses.”
The benefits awarded to existing children were also a focus of the court. The court stated that the Social Security Act’s primary beneficiaries were the existing children of a deceased wage earner and that posthumously born children would siphon away benefits from their siblings.
The determination of Shafer v. Astrue is partially based on Virginia intestacy law which provides that the posthumously born children cannot inherit from the father’s estate. It is unclear whether the decision will be appealed or whether it would apply to residents in other states.
Source: United States Court of Appeals 4th Circuit, Shafer v. Astrue, 3:09-cv-00096-GCM-DSC, 4/12/11