On October 28, 1987, you referred the above-captioned matter to us. You have asked
whether Scott and Andrea J~ are entitled to benefits on the account of Roger E. J~
In our opinion, they are not entitled to such benefits. Our reasons follow.
Scott and Andrea J~ were born to Roger and Rose J~ on June 22, 1974 and November 1,
1969, respectively. Roger and Rose were legally married at the time the children were
born. They subsequently were divorced on or around June 1977, and Rose married Russell
H~ sometime in 1980. Russell H~ adopted Scott and Andrea in 1982 in the State of Minnesota.
Under Minnesota law, at the time of the adoption all inheritance rights from Roger
J~ were severed. Thereafter, Rose and Russell H~ were also divorced. On July 16, 1985,
the State of Minnesota District Court terminated the parental rights of Russell under
the authority of M.S.A. §260.221. Rose H~ stated that Russell H~ voluntarily relinquished
his rights, making further court action against Russell H~ unnecessary. She also stated
that her attorney advised her not to pursue obtaining additional support for the children
from Roger since he was living on welfare and had no money. No formal action was taken
to reinstate the parent-child relationship between the children and Roger J~.
You have correctly noted that at the time of Scott and Andrea J~ adoption by Russell
H~, all inheritance rights from Roger ~ were severed. Under Minnesota law since April
1951, "for purposes of intestate succession . . (1) [a]n adopted person is the child
of an adopting parent and not the natural parent... M.S.A. §524.22-109. Accord, POMS
You have therefore asked if the later court action terminating Russell H~ parental
rights has the effect of reinstating the parental relationship between Scott and Andrea
and their biological father, Roger J~ In our opinion, it does not have that effect.
On July 16 1985, the court terminated the parental rights of Russell H~ pursuant to
M.S.A. §260.221. The court specifically found that after Russell H~ adopted the children,
no proper parent-child relationship developed between Russell and the children, that
any parent-child relationship was of limited duration, and that after the separation
of Ross and Russell there has been no continuing parent-child relationship.
The effect of a termination of parental rights under M.S.A. §260.221 is described
in M.S.A. §260.241. Insofar as is relevant herein, that statute states:
Subd. 1. If, after a hearing, the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that
one or more of the conditions set out in section 260.221 exist, it may terminate parental
Upon the termination of parental rights all rights, powers, and privileges, immunities,
duties, and obligations, including any rights to custody, control, visitation, or
support existing between the child and parent shall be severed and terminated and
the parent shall have no standing to appear at any further legal proceeding concerning
the child. Provided, however, that a parent whose parental rights are terminated shall
remain liable for the unpaid balance of any support obligation owed under a court
order upon the effective date of the order terminating parental rights.
Subd. 2. An order terminating the parent and child relationship shall not disentitle
a child to any benefit due the child from any third person, agency, state or the United
States, nor shall any action under this section be deemed to affect any rights and
benefits that a child derives from the child's descent from a member of a federally
recognized Indian tribe.
The statute is silent regarding the effect, if any, on (1) the rights or a child to
inherit from an intestate parent whose parental rights have been terminated, or (2)
the parental rights of a natural parents whose rights have previously been terminated.
There are no Minnesota court cases which have addressed either of these two questions.
In other jurisdictions, however, it has generally been held that an order terminating
parental rights affects only the parents in that their right to control or access
over the child is terminated. The status or rights of the child do not necessarily
change. 2 C.J.S. ADOPTION OF PERSONS §12 (1972), quoted with approval in Status of
Child Under Vermont State Law,
A/N ~ C, RA-I (Burstein)' to' ARC-I' Programs, 1/'1'4/82. Thus
although the rights of the parent are terminated, the child's rights are not terminated
and the child remains entitled to inherit from the parent.
In our opinion, the general rule is fully consistent with the law in Minnesota. Although
the rights of both relinquishing parent and child are explicitly affected by the Minnesota
adoption statute, the Minnesota statute involving termination of parental rights makes
no mention of the rights of the child. It appears that the two statutes operate independently
in Minnesota. Moreover, precluding intestate succession by these children from either
father seems inconsistent with the intent of the Minnesota statutes. See, e.g., M.S.A.
§260.241 (2), quoted above. We therefore see no reason to deviate from the general
As you are aware, a child's entitlement to Social Security benefits on the account
of a deceased parent who provided no support looks initially to the relevant state's
laws of intestate succession.
For the foregoing reasons, in our opinion Scott and Andrea would be eligible to benefits
on the account of Russell H~ should such a claim ever become appropriate. However,
they are not entitled to benefits on the account of their biological father, Roger
J~. In addition to having terminated his parental rights to the children, the children's
rights to intestate succession from Roger were terminated when they were adopted by
Russell, There has been no subsequent action by the children or Roger to change this
result. To the extent that this is not the outcome intended by the parties, they must
pursue further court action to modify the extant court orders.
We do not need to resolve your final question of whether the children can be deemed
to be dependent on Roger under Section 216(h)(3), since no parental relationship between
the children and Roger was reinstated. We nonetheless direct your attention to POMS
RS 01305.005 and SSR 63-28, which state that, in a state like Minnesota where adoption cuts off
intestate inheritance rights in the former parent's estate, the children must meet
the dependency test of Section 216(h)(3) in order to inherit from their natural father
after being adopted by another.