This is in response to your request for our opinion which we received July 11, 1988.
May the natural father of a child who was adopted inherit from the child under the
laws of intestate succession in the state of Indiana.
Robert E. H~ was adopted while still a minor by his stepfather. He subsequently became
disabled and died. He is survived by his mother, his adoptive father and a natural
father. He left no will. At the time of his death he was owed approximately $2000
in back disability benefits.
Section 204 of the Social Security Act provides for the proper adjustment of an underpayment
of disability benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 404(a)(1). The Act provides for payment to the
survivors of a deceased claimant. 42 U.S.C. ~ 404(a) (1)(B). If the claimant had no
spouse or children, payment is to be made to the parents of the deceased claimant.
42 U.S.C. § 404(d)(1), (2), and (3). See also 20 C.F.R. § 404.503(b). The Act defines
a parent as: (2)(A) In determining whether an applicant is the child or parent of
a fully or currently insured individual for purposes of this title, the Secretary
shall apply such law as would be applied in determining the devolution of inter- state
personal property by the courts of the State in which such insured individual is domiciled
at the time such applicant files application, or, if such insured individual is dead,
by the courts of the State in which he was domiciled at the time of his death, or,
if such insured individual is or was not so domiciled in any State, by the courts
of the District of Columbia. Applicants who according to such law would have the same
status relative to taking intestate personal property as a child or parent shall be
deemed such. 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(2)(A).
POMS RS 00209.010 paraphrases 42 C.F.R. § 404.374 which defines a parent as
(a) You are the mother or father of the insured and would be considered his or her
parent under the laws of the State where the insured had a permanent home when he
or she died;
(b) You are the adoptive parent of the insured and legally adopted him or her before
the insured person became 16 years old; or
(c) You are the stepparent of the insured and you married the insured's parent or
adoptive parent before the insured became 16 years old. The marriage must be valid
under the laws of the State where the insured had his or her permanent home when he
or she died. See, § 404.303 for a definition of “permanent home”.
At the time of his death, Richard E. H~ was domiciled in Indiana. We must therefore
look to the law of the State of Indiana to determine whether Richard's natural father
would be considered his parent entitled to inherit from his/estate in the absence
of a will.
The law of Indiana says:
29-l-2-8 Adopted children; inheritance Sec. 8. For all purposes of intestate succession,
including by, through, or from a person, both lineal and collateral, an adopted child
shall be treated as a natural child of the child's adopting parents, and the child
shall cease to be treated as a child of the natural parents and of any previous adopting
parents. However, if a natural parent of a child born in or out of wedlock marries
the adopting parent, the adopted child shall inherit from the child's natural parent
as though the child had not been adopted, and from the child's adoptive parent as
though the child were the natural child. In addition, if a person who is related to
a child within the sixth degree adopts such child such child shall upon the occasion
of each death in the child's family have the right of inheritance through the child's
natural parents or adopting parents, whichever is greater in value in each case.
Indiana Code, Annotated (West Supp. 1988). There is no relevant case law interpreting
the statute as regards the right of a natural parent to inherit from a child who has
been adopted. However, on its face, the statute terminates the right of a natural
parent to inherit from a child who has been adopted (even though the statute might
permit the child to inherit from the natural parent where the adoptive parent has
married a natural parent). There is no converse language permitting inheritance by
the natural parent from the child.
Under Indiana law, in the absence of a will leaving property to him Robert H~ natural
father may not inherit through Robert H~ estate.