TN 2 (09-06)

PR 01805.028 Missouri

A. PR 06-176 Inheritance Rights of Children Whose Parent's Parental Rights Were Terminated; Aimee R~ and Alyssa S~

DATE: June 14, 2006

1. SYLLABUS

Under Missouri law, in a situation where the number holder was declared by a court to be our claimants' father then had his parental rights terminated, the children would likely not be entitled to intestate inheritance. The Missouri Court of Appeals has stated that termination of parental rights deprives a child of his "future rights to support, affiliation and inheritance" from that parent.

The children should still be able to qualify for survivor's benefits, however, under Section 202(h)(3) of the Social Security Act based upon the court's declaration that the number holder was indeed their father.

2. OPINION

You asked whether, under Missouri law, two children would be entitled to inherit from their natural father, the deceased number holder, after his parental rights had been terminated, and therefore be eligible to receive survivor's Social Security benefits on his account. Based on our analysis of the applicable law, it appears that the children would likely not be entitled to intestate inheritance from the deceased number holder under Missouri law, but would still be deemed to be his dependent children for purposes of entitlement to survivor's benefits pursuant to the Social Security Act.

The documentation you provided with your request indicates that the children in question are Aimee R~, date of birth November 3, 1992, and Alyssa S~, date of birth April 24, 2000. It is uncontested that the number holder, Timothy S~, is the natural father of both children. On August 17, 2005, the Juvenile Division of the Circuit Court of Iron County, Missouri, entered an order which declared Mr. S~ was the natural father of both children and terminated his parental rights with respect to both children. In the same order, the Court also terminated the parental rights of the children's natural mother, Danielle S~. Mr. S~ died domiciled in Missouri on January 11, 2006. Both children have lived with Joe and Billie R~ since December 2003, but have not been adopted.

Section 202(d)(1) of the Social Security Act (the Act) establishes the criteria for entitlement to child's insurance benefits. This section provides that every child (as defined in section 216(e)) of an individual who dies fully insured under the Act is entitled to benefits if the child applies for benefits, is unmarried and under 18 (or a full-time elementary or secondary school student and under age 19), or is under a disability that began before age 22, and was dependent on the deceased at the time of death. Id. Thus, if Aimee R~ and Alyssa S~ are each the child of Mr. S~, as the term "child" is defined in the Act, are unmarried and under age 18 or under a disability that began before age 22, and were dependent on Mr. S~ at the time of his death, they would be entitled to receive survivor benefits on Mr. S~'s account.

It appears that Aimee and Alyssa are each a "child" of Mr. S~ as defined in the Social Security Act. Pursuant to the Act, the term "child" includes the child or legally adopted child of an individual. Social Security Act § 216(e). The Act directs that in determining whether an applicant is the "child" of an insured individual, the Commissioner shall apply such law as would be applied in determining the devolution of intestate personal property by the courts of the state in which the insured individual was domiciled at the time of his death. Social Security Act § 216(h)(2)(A). An applicant who is a "child" pursuant to state intestate succession laws and would take intestate personal property as a "child" shall be deemed the "child" of the deceased number holder under the Social Security Act. Id. Our research indicates that Aimee and Alyssa would likely not be able to inherit from Mr. S~. While Missouri statutes are silent on the subject, the Missouri Court of Appeals has noted that termination of parental rights deprives a child of his "future rights to support, affiliation and inheritance" from that parent. See In re in the Interest of R.A.S., 826 S.W.2d 397, 401 (Mo. App. W.D. 1992).

However, an applicant who is not (and is not deemed to be) the "child" of the insured individual under section 216(h)(2), but who is the natural son or daughter of the insured individual, may be deemed to be the "child" of such insured individual under certain circumstances. Social Security Act § 216(h)(3). In the case of a deceased individual, the son or daughter is deemed to be the insured individual's "child" if, inter alia, the insured was decreed by a court to be the mother or father of the applicant and the court decree or order was entered before the death of the insured individual. Social Security Act § 216(h)(3)(C)(i)(II). We believe it is reasonable to conclude that Aimee and Alyssa would each be deemed to be a "child" of Mr. S~ pursuant to section 216(h)(3)(C)(i)(II) of the Act because the Juvenile Division of the District Court of Iron County, Missouri, decreed Mr. S~ to be the natural father of both children in an order dated August 17, 2005, prior to Mr. S~'s death on January 11, 2006.

Finally, under the Act, Aimee and Alyssa would be deemed "dependent" upon Mr. S~ for purposes of entitlement to child's benefits. Section 202(d)(3) of the Act provides that any child who meets th