Whether Conrad (Claimant) is entitled to child survivors insurance benefits on the
account of Frances (DWE), who adopted Claimant as an adult.
Yes. Claimant’s adult adoption was valid under California law. Although he was over
age 18 when he applied for survivors benefits, he has a disability that began before
age 22 and was unmarried at the time of application. As DWE’s legally adopted child,
Claimant is deemed dependent on her at the time of death. Accordingly, Claimant is
entitled to child’s insurance benefits on DWE’s account.
SUMMARY OF EVIDENCE
Claimant was born on June. According to information provided by the Feather River
office, Claimant has received supplemental security income (SSI) payments as a disabled
individual since age 15. When Claimant was 23 years old, a California Superior Court
issued an adoption order and decree. The January 29, 1996 order approved Claimant’s
adoption by DWE and her spouse, Jack, and declared that Claimant shall be treated
as their child.
The Feather River office further noted that, in May 2003, DWE applied for Title II
disability insurance benefits but denied adopting Claimant. Instead, she stated she
was Claimant’s guardian. Additionally, DWE adopted a minor child, Michelle, in October
2003, and filed an application for auxiliary child benefits on Michelle’s behalf in
February 2004. According to Claimant, DWE and Jack adopted four other disabled adult
DWE died in September 2005 in Butte, California. She received disability benefits
until her death. Michelle continues to receive child’s insurance benefits on DWE’s
account. Jack also receives survivor’s benefits.
Claimant’s amended birth certificate, issued in February 2009, provides that his parents
are Frances and Jack.  According to the Feather River office, Plaintiff married in November 2011, but divorced
in July 2013.
Claimant applied for child’s insurance benefits under DWE’s account on January 31,
2014. If approved, the Feather River office indicated his date of entitlement will
be August 2013.
Under the Social Security Act (Act), an applicant may be eligible for child survivors
insurance benefits if he or she is the “child” of the insured, as defined in section
216(e) of the Act. Social Security Act § 202(d)(1); 20 C.F.R. § 404.350. Section 216(e)(1)
of the Act defines a “child” as “the child or legally adopted child of an individual.”
Section 216(e)(1) of the Act; see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.356 (“You may be eligible for benefits as the insured’s child if
you were legally adopted by the insured”). For purposes of adopted children, the agency
applies the adoption laws of the State where the adoption took place.  20 C.F.R. § 404.356; Program Operations Manual System (POMS) GN 00306.135.
In addition to establishing he is the insured individual’s adopted child, the applicant
must also: (1) apply for benefits, (2) be unmarried, (3) be dependent on the insured
individual at the time of his or her death, and (3) be under age 18; or, if older
than age 18, have a disability that began prior to age 22; or qualify as a full-time
student. See Social Security Act § 202(d)(1); 20 C.F.R. § 404.350; POMS GN 00306.001(A). Pursuant to section 202(d)(1), an individual is entitled to child’s insurance
benefits in the first month he meets the foregoing criteria. See Social Security Act § 202(d)(1); 20 C.F.R. § 404.352(a).
A legally adopted child is considered dependent on the insured if adopted prior to
the insured’s entitlement to old age or disability benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.362(a);
POMS GN 00306.136. “A child legally adopted by the NH before the NH’s death is deemed
dependent on the adopting parent at the time of death.” POMS GN 00306.136.B (citing
GN 00306.008); accord20 C.F.R. § 404.362(a).
Under California law, an adult may adopt another adult. Cal. Fam. Code § 9300(a).
However, a married person cannot adopt an adult without the consent of his or her
spouse. Cal. Fam. Code § 9301. Additionally, a person cannot adopt more than one unrelated
adult within one year unless the proposed adoptee is disabled. Cal. Fam. Code § 9303(a).
After the adoption, the adopted adult and his or her adopting parents have a relationship
of parent and child, with all of the rights and duties arising from such a relationship.
Cal. Fam. Code § 9305. The adopted person may take the family name of the adoptive
parent. Cal. Fam. Code § 9304.
California permits parties may enter into an adult adoption agreement so long as the
proposed adoptee is younger than the proposed adoptive parents. Cal. Fam. Code § 9320(a).
The parties may then file a petition in the county court for approval of the adoption
agreement. Cal. Fam. Code §§ 9320(a), 9321. If the court is satisfied that the adoption
is in the best interests of the persons seeking adoption, and there is no reason why
the petition should not be granted, the court will approve the adoption agreement
and order the adoption. Cal. Fam. Code § 9328.
Here, DWE and her spouse petitioned the Sacramento, California, Superior Court to
approve their adult adoption of Claimant. The Court determined that the adoption was
in the best interest of the parties and in the public interest, and found no reason
to deny the petition. The adoption decree listed the required provisions of California
law and explained that the DWE and her husband were simultaneously adopting Claimant’s
biological sibling. Accordingly, the Court ordered the adoption and decreed that DWE
and her spouse were the legal parents of Claimant.  The adoption was valid under California law despite Claimant attaining age 23 at
the time of the adoption. See Cal. Fam. Code § 9300(a).
Also relevant to the validity of a California adoption was whether DWE adopted more
than one adult child within the same year. Claimant reported that DWE and her spouse
adopted four other adult children. However, as Claimant was disabled (and alleges
that the other children are also disabled), the limitations on the number of adults
adopted within the same year does not apply. See Cal. Fam. Code § 9303(a).
Based on the foregoing, DWE’s adult adoption of Claimant was valid under California
law. Still, Claimant must meet the other criteria for child’s insurance benefits.
Although Claimant was 42 years of age when he filed his application for benefits,
agency SSI records show that he had a disability that began before age 22. Accordingly,
his age did not preclude his eligibility for child’s insurance benefits. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.350(a)(5).
Furthermore, although he married in November 2011, he divorced in July 2013, and thus
was unmarried at the time of application. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.350(a)(4).  Finally, Claimant must show he was dependent on DWE at the time of her death. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.350(a)(2). As DWE’s legally adopted child, he meets this requirement.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.362(a); POMS GN 00306.136.B. DWE adopted Claimant in 1996, prior to her DIB entitlement in 2003. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.362(a) (“If you were legally adopted by the insured before he or she became
entitled to old-age or disability benefits, you are considered dependent upon him
or her.”). Furthermore, Claimant did not apply for benefits on DWE’s account until
after her death. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.362(a); POMS GN 00306.136.B (“A child legally adopted by the NH before the NH's death is deemed dependent on
the adopting parent at the time of death”). Claimant is therefore deemed dependent
on DWE at the time of her death. See id.
Claimant’s adult adoption was valid under California law, Claimant was unmarried,
and he had a disability arising before age 22. Because DWE adopted him prior to her
death, he is deemed dependent on her. Claimant is therefore entitled to child’s insurance