You have asked whether the claimant is the child of the deceased number holder for
the purposes of child’s insurance benefits when the number holder’s parental rights
have been terminated, but the child has not been adopted.
For the reasons stated below, we believe the claimant qualifies as the number holder’s
child for purposes of child’s insurance benefits.
According to the information provided, Michael D. J~ (Claimant) was born on May 1,
1993. Claimant’s birth certificate does not identify a father. However, Kevin J~,
the number holder (NH), listed Claimant as his child on his disability insurance benefits
(DIB) application on June 17, 2008. NH did not marry Claimant’s mother.
NH died on July 5, 2009, in Dyersburg, Tennessee. NH was domiciled in Dyersburg, Tennessee
at the time of his death and the record indicates he lived in Dyersburg for at least
the previous ten years.
The file contains an order to terminate parental rights, dated October 31, 2001, issued
by the District Court for Wake County, North Carolina. In that order, the court found
that NH received proper service of the petition to terminate his parental rights and
did not answer the petition. The court found that NH was the biological father of
Claimant, but found sufficient grounds to terminate NH’s parental rights.
The file also contains a statement from Claimant’s mother and from Claimant’s stepfather
asserting Claimant’s stepfather has not adopted Claimant, nor has Claimant ever been
To qualify for child’s insurance benefits on the earnings record of a deceased insured
individual, a claimant must be the insured individual’s child. See Social Security Act (Act) § 202(d); 20 C.F.R. § 404.350(a)(1) (2009). “Child” includes
the natural child of an insured individual. See Act § 216(e); 20 C.F.R. § 404.354 (2009). A claimant can qualify as the insured individual’s
natural child if, among other methods, the claimant could inherit the insured's personal
property as his child under the intestacy laws of the state where the insured had
his permanent home when he died. See Act § 216(h)(2)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.355(a)(1), (b)(1), (4) (2009). If applicable
State inheritance law requires a court determination of paternity, SSA will not require
a claimant to obtain such a determination but will decide his paternity by using the
standard of proof the State court would use as the basis for a determination of paternity.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.355(b)(2).
The information provided indicates NH was domiciled in Tennessee at the time of his
death and had lived in Tennessee for many years. Therefore, Tennessee law applies
in determining whether Claimant is the child of NH for the purposes of intestate succession
under section 216(h)(2)(A) of the Act. See Act § 216(h)(2)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.355(a)(1), (b)(1), (4).
Tennessee law provides when any person dies intestate, the deceased’s property passes
to the deceased’s heirs. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 31-2-101 (West 2009). The surviving spouse receives the entire
intestate estate unless the decedent has surviving children, in which case the children
are entitled to a child’s share of the intestate estate. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 31-2-104 (West 2009). A person born out of wedlock is a child of
the father if paternity is established by adjudication before the death of the father
or is established thereafter by clear and convincing proof. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 31-2-105(a)(2)(B) (West 2009); see also Program Operations Manual System (POMS) GN 00306.635 (providing an overview of Tennessee Intestacy Laws); Bilbrey v. Smithers, 937 S.W.2d 803, 807-08 (Tenn. 1996) (paternity can be established only by clear
and convincing proof). The clear and convincing evidence standard is a heightened
burden of proof that requires more than the preponderance of the evidence standard
but less than the beyond a reasonable doubt standard. See In re S.L.A., 223 S.W. 3d 295, 299 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2006). To satisfy the clear and convincing
evidence standard, a party must eliminate any serious or substantial doubt concerning
the accuracy of the conclusions drawn from the evidence and should produce a firm
belief in the truth of the allegations sought to be established. Id.
In Tennessee, termination of parental rights essentially terminates all legal obligations.
Terminating a person’s parental rights “‘has the legal effect of reducing the parent
to the role of a complete stranger.’” In re C.T.B., No. M2009-00316-COA-R3-PT, 2009 WL 1939826, at *2 (Tenn. Ct. App. July 6, 2009)
(quoting In re W.B., IV, No. M2004-00999-COA-R3-PT, 2005 WL 1021618, at *6 (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 29, 2005)).
“An order terminating parental rights shall have the effect of severing forever all
legal rights and obligations of the parent or guardian of the child against whom the
order of termination is entered and of the child who is the subject of the petition
to that parent or guardian.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(l)(1) (West 2009); see In re C.T.B, 2009 WL at 1939826, *2. However, the Tennessee termination of parental rights statute
includes a specific exception for inheritance rights of a child who has not been adopted:
“Notwithstanding the provisions of subdivision (l)(1), a child who is the subject
of the order for termination shall be entitled to inherit from a parent whose rights
are terminated until the final order of adoption is entered.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(1)(2);
cf. POMS PR 01410.047A (concluding a child cannot inherit from a natural parent when the relationship has
been terminated by a final order of adoption).
We believe a Tennessee court would conclude the record provides clear and convincing
evidence that Claimant is NH’s child for the purposes of Tennessee intestacy law.
NH openly acknowledged Claimant as his child in writing as part of his DIB application
to SSA. Tennessee courts have held that such an acknowledgement constitutes clear
and convincing evidence to establish paternity. See, e.g., Kelani v. Bowen, 684 F.Supp. 490, 497 (M.D. Tenn. 1988) (witness testimony and father’s acknowledgement
constitutes clear and convincing evidence of paternity); In re D.S.P., No. M2008-01690-COA-R3-JV, 2009 WL 1456321, at *1 (Tenn. Ct. App. May 21, 2009)
(father’s written acknowledgment of paternity memorialized in court order established
paternity); State ex rel. Hickman v. Dodd, No. W2008-00534-COA-R3-CV, 2008 WL 4963508, at *3 (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 21, 2008)
(written acknowledgment of paternity established paternity of father and was binding);
In re B.C.W., No. M2007-00168-COA-R3-JV, 2008 WL 450616, at *1 (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 19, 2008)
(voluntary acknowledgment of paternity by father sufficient to establish relationship).
Additionally, the North Carolina District Court, in its order terminating NH’s parental
rights, concluded NH was Claimant’s biological father. Although the finding that NH
was Claimant’s biological father was ancillary to the primary purpose of the order,
a Tennessee court likely would give full faith and credit to the finding in determining
the issue of NH’s paternity. See U.S. Const. art. IV, § 1; 28 U.S.C. § 1738; Tenn. Code Ann. § 24-7-113 (West 2009);
Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-5-101(5) (West 2009); Baker by Thomas v. General Motors Corp., 522 U.S. 222, 231-32 (1998); see also In re Adoption Downey, No. E20021972COAR3CV, 2003 WL 2010753, at *2 (Tenn. Ct. App. April 30, 2003) (final
judgments of sister states are presumed to be conclusive and valid; court upheld Georgia
order terminating parental rights of Tennessee citizen). Moreover, the finding of
the North Carolina court that NH was Claimant’s biological father would constitute
further clear and convincing evidence to establish paternity, because the North Carolina
court made that finding after a review of the evidence presented to establish paternity.
Therefore, we conclude that a Tennessee court would determine that clear and convincing
evidence exists to establish that Claimant is the child of NH for the purpose of intestate
As noted above, the record shows that a North Carolina court terminated NH’s parental
rights. However, Claimant’s mother and stepfather denied that Claimant was adopted
by his stepfather or by anyone else, and no other evidence indicates Claimant has
been adopted. Therefore, because Claimant has not been adopted, he retains inheritance
rights from NH and would be considered the child of NH for purposes of intestate succession
in Tennessee. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(1)(2). Thus, we believe the evidence establishes that
Claimant is NH’s child under section 216(h)(2)(A) of the Act.
For the foregoing reasons, we believe Claimant would be considered NH’s child for
the purposes of child’s insurance benefits.
Very truly yours,
Mary A. S~
Regional Chief Counsel
Richard V. B~
Assistant Regional Counsel