You have asked whether adopted children can receive child's insurance benefits on
the earnings record of their natural father.
The adopted children cannot receive child's insurance benefits on the earnings record
of their natural father because the relationship between the children and their natural
father was severed upon their adoption, and the evidence does not indicate that their
natural father was living with or contributing to their support at the time of his
Nicholas S~ (DOB: 9/28/99) and Jacob S~ (DOB: 12/30/00) (Claimants) filed for child's
insurance benefits as the surviving children of John R. C~, Jr., the number holder
(NH). NH and Claimants' mother were married at the time of Claimants' birth but divorced
in January 2001. Claimants' mother later married Bradley D. S~, and Mr. S~ legally
adopted Claimants in March 25, 2008. On June 6, 2008, the Tennessee Department of
Health and Human Services modified NH's current support to $0 based on Claimants'
adoption by Mr. S~. NH died on January 24, 2009, while domiciled in Tennessee.
To qualify for child's insurance benefits on the earnings record of an insured individual
who has died, a claimant must be the insured individual's "child." See Social Security Act (Act) § 202(d), 42 U.S.C. § 402(d); 20 C.F.R. § 404.350(a)(1)
(2008). "Child" may include the natural child, adopted child, stepchild, or in some
cases, grandchild, of an insured individual. See Act § 216(e), 42 U.S.C. § 416(e); 20 C.F.R. § 404.354 (2008). A claimant may be eligible
for benefits as the natural child of a deceased insured individual if he or she could
inherit a child's share of the insured individual's personal property under the laws
of the state in which the insured individual was domiciled at the time of his or her
death. See Act § 216(h)(2)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.355(a)(1), (b)(1), (4) (2008). Because NH died
in Tennessee, we apply Tennessee law to determine if Claimants are the children of
NH for the purposes of intestate succession under section 216(h)(2)(A) of the Act.
Program and Operations Manual System (POMS) GN 00306.165A states that a child of the number holder who was adopted by another person during
the number holder's lifetime is the number holder's child for benefit purposes only
if the adoption did not cut off the child's inheritance rights in the number holder's
estate under applicable State law. Tennessee law severs the relationship between an
adopted child and his or her natural parent upon adoption by another person. In pertinent
part, Tennessee law defines a parent and child relationship for the purposes of intestate
succession as follows:
(a) If, for purposes of intestate succession, a relationship of parent and child must
be established to determine succession by, through, or from a person:
(1) An adopted person is the child of an adopting parent and not of the natural parents
except that adoption of a child by the spouse of a natural parent has no effect on
the relationship between the child and that natural parent . . . .
TENN. CODE ANN. § 31-2-105 (2008). In reviewing the legislative history of section
31-2-105, the Tennessee Court of Appeals concluded that the General Assembly "consciously
terminated the inheritance rights of the parent who has relinquished their rights."
Wicks v. Veteran's Steel Erection Co., No. 03A01-9510-CV00363, 1996 WL 87447, at *1 (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 26, 1996). Accordingly,
by the terms of Tennessee's inheritance laws, "an adopted child cannot inherit from
a natural parent who has consented to his/her child's adoption." Id. Thus, under Tennessee law, Claimants are not NH's children for the purposes of intestate
succession and are not eligible for child's insurance benefits on NH's earnings record
under section 216(h)(2)(A) of the Act.
However, a child claimant who does not satisfy the requirements of section 216(h)(2)(A)
still may be deemed the child of a deceased insured individual if the child satisfies
the criteria in section 216(h)(3)(C) of the Act. Under section 216(h)(3)(C)(i), a
child who is the son or daughter of a deceased insured individual will be deemed to
be the child of the insured individual if the insured individual acknowledged the
child in writing, had been decreed by a court to be the mother or father of the child,
or had been ordered by a court to contribute to the support of the child because the
child was his or her son or daughter. See 20 C.F.R § 404.355(a)(3) (2008). Although there had previously been a court order
requiring NH to contribute to Claimants' support, this order was modified in June
2008 as a result of Claimants' adoption by Mr. S~. Additionally, there is no evidence
that NH acknowledged Claimants as his sons after his parental rights were severed
by the adoption. As a result, Claimants would not be deemed the children of NH under
section 216(h)(3)(C)(i) of the Act.
Additionally, a child who is the son or daughter of a deceased insured individual
will be deemed to be the child of the insured individual if the insured individual
is shown by evidence satisfactory to the Commissioner to have been the mother or father
of the applicant, and such insured individual was living with or contributing to the
support of the applicant at the time such insured individual died. See Act § 216(h)(3)(C)(ii); 20 C.F.R. § 404.361(b) (2008); POMS GN 00306.008. Contributions for support should be regular, substantial, and consistent contributions
in cash or in kind and in an amount that is a reasonable factor in the reasonable
cost of the child's support. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.366 (2008); POMS RS 01301.005A. Claimants were not living with NH when he died. Regarding contributions for support,
the evidence provided indicates NH had not contributed to Claimants' support since
they were adopted by Mr. S~ in March 2008, more than eight months prior to NH's death.
Accordingly, the evidence submitted does not appear to establish that NH was contributing
to Claimants' support at the time of his death. Thus, the evidence does not show that
Claimants could be deemed the children of NH under section 216(h)(3)(C)(ii) of the
Because Claimants cannot inherit NH's intestate personal property under Tennessee
law, they are not NH's children under section 216(h)(2)(A) of the Act. Moreover, because
the evidence does not indicate NH was contributing to Claimants' support at the time
he died, they are not NH's children under section 216(h)(3)(C) of the Act. Therefore,
Claimants are not the children of NH for purposes of child's insurance benefits on
NH's earnings record.
Mary A. S~
Regional Chief Counsel
Joseph P. P~, III
Assistant Regional Counsel