You have asked us whether under Montana state law the child still has the right to
inherit from his presumed natural father after the father's parental rights were terminated.
As discussed below, we have concluded that under Montana law a termination of the
parent-child relationship does not effect the right of the child to inherit from the
A. Factual Background
William A. L~ was born February 7, 1989, to Jana M. L~. Ms. L~ was married to John
K. B~, ~, on March 26, 1988, and divorced on March 8, 1989. The divorce decree listed
William as born of the marriage and required Mr. B~ to pay child support. On July
12, 1989, the court entered a decree terminating the parental rights of Mr. B~ and
ending his obligation to provide child support. A birth certificate that was issued
September 13, 1989, has William's last name changed from B~ to L~ and the father's
name stricken out. Mr. B~ died on September 15, 2000, while domiciled in Montana.
William was not living with the Mr. B~, nor being supported by him at the time of
Mr. B~'s death. Ms. L~ applied for child's insurance benefits on behalf of William
on September 28, 2000.
Section 216 of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(2)(A), provides that
[i]n determining whether an applicant is the child or parent of a fully or currently
insured individual for purposes of this subchapter, the Commissioner of Social Security
shall apply such law as would be applied in determining the devolution of intestate
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 . .
Montana state law governing termination of parental rights and the right to inherit
is clear and explicit. Mont. Code Ann. § 41-3-611 (1999) states:
(1) An order for the termination of the parent-child legal relationship divests the
child and the parents of all legal rights, powers, immunities, duties and obligations
with respect to each other as provided in Title 40, chapter 6, part 2, except the
right of the child to inherit from the parent.
(Emphasis added.) See also In re The Matter of R.T.L.P., Youth in Need of Care, 238 Mont. 384, 777 P.2d 892, 896 (1989); In The Matter of C.P., Youth in Need of Care, 221 Mont. 180, 717 P.2d 1093, 1095 (1986).
Thus, we conclude that the termination of Mr. B~'s parental rights did not end William's
right to inherit from Mr. B~.