U.S. Supreme Court rules that children conceived through in vitro fertilization after their father’s death are not eligible to receive Social Security benefits.

On May 21, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Astrue v. Capato (No. 11-159) that Robert Capato’s twin girls conceived after he died using his frozen sperm are not entitled to Social Security survivor benefits. 

Eighteen months after her husband, Robert Capato, died of cancer, Karen Capato gave birth to twins conceived through in vitro fertilization, using her husband’s frozen sperm. Karen applied for social security benefits for the twins, but the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied her application.

The Social Security Administration interpreted the Social Security Act to allow children conceived after their father’s death to qualify for Social Security survivors benefits only if they could inherit from their father under state intestacy law. Robert was domiciled in Florida when he died. Under Florida law, a child born after the father’s death may only inherit through intestate succession if the child was conceived during the decedent’s lifetime.

The District Court affirmed the SSA’s decision. The Third Circuit
then reversed the District Court’s decision, concluding that, under §
416(e) of the Act, “the undisputed biological children of a deceased
wage earner and his widow” qualify for benefits without regard to the
state intestacy law. 

The Supreme Court reversed the Third Circuit. The Supreme Court
found that the SSA’s interpretation of the statute 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 also
noted that even if the SSA’s longstanding interpretation is not the only reasonable one, it is at least a permissible construction entitled to
deference under Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. National Resources Defense
Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984).