TN 20 (07-15)

PR 01805.042 Pennsylvania

A. PR 15-145 - Does a claimant, D~, qualify for surviving child’s insurance benefits on the record of P~ (NH), under Pennsylvania law, where the NH terminated her parental rights with respect to the claimant prior to her death.

DATE: June 12, 2015

1. SYLLABUS

The NH was domiciled in Pennsylvania when she died, therefore we look to Pennsylvania law to determine whether the claimant could inherit from NH as NH’s child. In November 2011, the Court issued a final decree stating the NH voluntarily relinquished all parental rights and duties to the claimant. The Pennsylvania intestacy law provides that a child can inherit from a parent. However where a parent relinquishes their parental rights, whether voluntarily or involuntarily and such relinquishment is accepted by court decree, it severs the parent-child relationship and the child no longer has the right to inherit from that parent under Pennsylvania intestacy law. Thus, we believe that the claimant does not qualify for surviving child’s insurance benefits on NH’s record.

2. OPINION

QUESTION PRESENTED

You asked us to determine if a claimant, D~, qualifies for surviving child’s insurance benefits on the record of P~ (NH), under Pennsylvania law, where the NH terminated her parental rights with respect to the claimant prior to her death.

CONCLUSION

We believe that Pennsylvania law does not allow the claimant to inherit from the NH through intestacy. Therefore, we believe that the claimant does not qualify for surviving child’s insurance benefits on NH’s record.

BACKGROUND

On November XX, 2011, the Court of Common Pleas of Northumberland County, Pennsylvania issued a final decree determining that all parental rights and duties of the NH with respect to the claimant were awarded to Northumberland County Children and Youth Services. The decree states the NH voluntarily relinquished all parental rights and duties to the claimant. On

May XX, 2014, the NH passed away in her state of domicile, Pennsylvania.

On March XX, 2015, the department of Children and Youth Services of Northumberland County, Pennsylvania filed an application on the record of the NH for surviving child’s benefits on behalf of the claimant. According to the department of the Children and Youth Services, the claimant has not been adopted by another person during the NH’s lifetime.

DISCUSSION

To qualify for child’s insurance benefits on the earnings record of an insured individual who has died, a claimant must be that individual’s “child.” See Social Security Act (Act) § 202(d);

20 C.F.R. § 404.350(a)(1). A claimant can qualify as the insured individual’s natural child if the claimant could inherit from the insured individual as his or her child. See Act § 216(h)(2)(A);

20 C.F.R. § 404.355(a)(1), (b). To determine if a claimant could inherit from the insured individual the Social Security Administration applies the intestacy laws of the state where the insured had her permanent home when she died. See Act § 216(h)(2)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.355(a)(1), (b)(1). Because NH was domiciled in Pennsylvania when she died, we look to Pennsylvania law to determine whether the claimant could inherit from NH as NH’s child.

See Act § 216(h)(2)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.355 (b)(4).

Pennsylvania intestacy law provides that a child can inherit from a parent. See 20 Pa.C.S.A.

§ 2103. That said, Pennsylvania domestic relations law, in 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 2501, provides that the parents of a child, who has been in the care of an agency, may petition the court for permission to “relinquish forever all parental rights and duties with respect to the child.” (emphasis added). Similarly, in the case of Kauffman v. Truett, 771 A.2d 36 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2001), the Pennsylvania Superior Court determined that a father’s child support obligation ended upon the involuntary termination of his parental rights. In reaching this conclusion, the Court stated: “Termination of parental rights is the death sentence to a parent-child relationship.”

Id. at 39 (internal citation omitted). More recently, in Kimock v. Jones, 47 A.3d 850, 854-55 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2012), the Pennsylvania Superior Court distinguished between the relinquishment of parental rights and a restrictive covenant order stating “termination of parental rights for all practical purposes ends the parent/child relationship as unequivocally as the death of the child.” (emphasis in original).

We believe that the statutes and cases referenced herein dictate that where a parent (such as the NH) relinquishes her parental rights, whether voluntarily or involuntarily (and su