You asked whether the claimant, who was reportedly conceived through artificial insemination
from an anonymous sperm donor, is eligible to receive child's insurance benefits on
the account of the number holder and if so, what is the earliest date of entitlement.
You also asked if the claimant's mother is eligible to receive mother's insurance
benefits and if so, what is the earliest date of entitlement.
For the reasons stated below, we believe a Social Security Administration (SSA) adjudicator
could find the claimant eligible to inherit from the number holder through intestacy
and would thus be eligible for child's benefits on the account of the number holder.
We also believe the claimant's mother is eligible to receive mother's benefits. Both
the claimant and his mother are eligible to receive benefits for up to six months
immediately before the month in which the claimant's application was filed.
Bryan G~, the number holder (NH), and Kathy Lynne C~ (Mother) were married on July
10, 1993. NH and Mother signed an artificial insemination agreement on October 11,
1994, for the purpose of obtaining sperm from an anonymous donor. The agreement included
the statement “if with the consent of her husband a wife is artificially inseminated,
the husband is treated in law as if he were the natural father of a child thereby
conceived.” NH and Mother were divorced on October 19, 1995, by order of the Circuit
Court for the Fourth Judicial District at Newport, Cocke County, Tennessee. McKinley
C~ (Claimant) was conceived prior to the divorce of NH and Mother. The Agreed Judgment
granting the divorce does not reference Claimant or the issues of custody and child
Claimant was born on May 9, 1996, and never lived with NH. Claimant's original birth
certificate listed the name of Mother's boyfriend, Michael P~, as Claimant's father.
Mother claims Mr. P~ was listed as Claimant's father without her knowledge. A new
birth certificate was issued on August 9, 1996, listing no father for Claimant. NH
died on June 13, 2006. Mother initiated legitimation proceedings in the Juvenile Court
of Cocke County, Tennessee. On June 22, 2007, the court issued an order declaring
NH to be Claimant's legal father. The court concluded by a preponderance of the evidence
Claimant was conceived by artificial insemination prior to the divorce of NH and Mother
and NH voluntarily choose to be part of the artificial insemination program. The State
of Tennessee issued a new birth certificate listing NH as Claimant's father on July
Mother filed a claim on Claimant's behalf for child's insurance benefits on the account
of NH. Mother also filed a claim for mother's insurance benefits on her own behalf.
Both applications have a protective filing date of June 22, 2007. NH, Mother and Claimant
have never received benefits from SSA.
Entitlement to Child's Insurance Benefits - In General
To qualify for child's 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), 42 U.S.C. § 402(d); 20 C.F.R. § 404.350(a)(1) (2007). A claimant can qualify
as the insured person'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(e), (h)(2)(A),
42 U.S.C. § 416(e), (h)(2)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.355(b) (2007). Since NH was domiciled
in Tennessee when he died, the question is whether Claimant would be considered NH's
child for purposes of intestate succession under Tennessee law.
Tennessee Law Applied to this Claim
The natural or adopted child of NH would be entitled to a share of NH's intestate
estate. See Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 31-1-101, 31-2-104 (2007). A man is presumed to be the father
of a child who is born either during the course of the marriage between the man and
the child's mother or within 300 days after the marriage. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-2-304(a)(1) (2007). Claimant was conceived during the marriage
of NH and Mother and was born fewer than 300 days after their divorce. Therefore,
Claimant is presumed to be the natural child of NH. Under Tennessee law, this presumption
can only be rebutted by clear and convincing evidence which can include a finding
that the husband was impotent or had no access to the mother at the time of conception.
See POMS PR 01010.047(A). The clear and convincing evidence standard is a heightened burden of proof which
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.
The juvenile court determined Claimant was conceived through artificial insemination
from an anonymous donor (that is, the court determined Claimant was not NH's natural
child). However, the juvenile court reached this conclusion by a preponderance of
the evidence as opposed to clear and convincing evidence. SSA is not required to accept
a state court determination unless (1) an issue in a claim for Social Security benefits
previously has been decided by a state court of competent jurisdiction; (2) this issue
was genuinely contested before the state court by parties with opposing interests
(3) the issue falls within the general category of domestic relations law; and (4)
the resolution by the state trial court is consistent with the law enunciated by the
highest court in the state. See Social Security Ruling 83-37c. SSA is not required
to accept the findings of the juvenile court because those proceedings were initiated
after the death of NH and, therefore, there was no party opposing Mother's request.
Furthermore, it is unclear what evidence the juvenile court relied upon in determining
Claimant was not NH's natural child. See id. Mother claims NH was sterile, although she did not submit medical evidence to substantiate
her claim. Although NH voluntarily entered into an artificial insemination agreement,
the agreement contains no statement by NH acknowledging himself as sterile. Nor does
the record contain any evidence that NH did not have access to Mother at the time
of Claimant's conception. We believe the record does not provide clear and convincing
evidence sufficient to rebut the presumption Claimant is NH's natural child.
Even if the evidence were sufficient to rebut this natural child presumption, Claimant
would still be entitled to inherit from NH's intestate estate. “A child born to a
married woman as a result of artificial insemination, with consent of the married
woman's husband, is deemed to be the legitimate child of the husband and wife.” Tenn.
Code Ann. § 68-3-306 (2007). There is no evidence NH's signature on the artificial
insemination agreement was involuntary and the text of the agreement placed NH on
notice that he could be considered the legal father of any child produced as a result
of artificial insemination. The juvenile court cited to this statute in its determination
NH was Claimant's legal father.
An action for paternity and legitimation may be filed in the juvenile court or in
any trial court with general jurisdiction. See Tenn. Stat. Ann. §§ 36-2-302(2), 36-2-307(a)(1) (2007). However, a legitimation decree
from a juvenile court action filed after the alleged father's death is not acceptable
evidence of paternity because the chancery court is the proper place to bring a paternity
action for purposes of intestate succession. See POMS PR 0115.0478(I), GN 00306.635(A); Woods
v. Fields, 798 S.W.2d 239, 241 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1990). A petition for legitimation can be filed
until three years beyond the child's age of majority. See Tenn. Stat. Ann. § 36-2-306(a) (2007). Since Claimant is only eleven years old, Mother
could still file an action in chancery court seeking an order of paternity and legitimation
for purposes of intestate succession. However, a claimant attempting to establish
that he is the child of an insured individual is not required to obtain a court determination
of paternity. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.355(b)(2). Given Tennessee law, particularly Tenn. Code Ann. § 68-3-306,
we believe a chancery court would reach the same conclusion as the juvenile court
that NH was Claimant's legal father. Once the relationship of father and child has
been established in such an action, “the child shall be entitled to inherit from the
father as if born to the father in wedlock.” Tenn. Stat. Ann. § 36-2-313(a) (2007).
Therefore, we conclude Claimant can inherit from NH through intestate succession and
is eligible for child's insurance benefits.
You also asked for an opinion on when Claimant would become eligible for child's insurance
benefits. An applicant for child's benefits can receive benefits for up to six months
immediately before the month in which the application is filed. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.621(a)(2) (2007). Since Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-2-313(a) confers inheritance
rights equivalent to those of a legitimate child, Claimant would have the same right
to retroactive benefits as NH's biological child. See POMS PR 01120.047(A). Therefore, Claimant could receive benefits for up to six months prior to June
2007, the month in which his application was filed.
Entitlement to Mother's Insurance Benefits
A surviving divorced mother is entitled to mother's insurance benefits if she (1)
is not married; (2) is not entitled to a surviving spouse's insurance benefit; (3)
is not entitled to old-age insurance benefits; (4) has filed an application for mother's
insurance benefits; and (5) has in her care the child of the insured person. See Act § 202(g)(1); 20 C.F.R. § 404.340 (2007). A “surviving divorced mother” means
a woman who is divorced from an individual who has died and is the mother of his son
or daughter. See Act § 216(d)(3). The child must be under the age of sixteen, the natural or adopted
child of the surviving divorced mother and entitled to child's benefits on the record
of the insured person. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.340(e) (2007).
Mother did not remarry after her divorce from NH. Mother is not entitled to widow's
benefits as a surviving divorced spouse because she is less than sixty years old and
was married to NH for less than ten years immediately preceding their divorce. See Act § 202(e)(1); 20 C.F.R. § 404.336(a)(2) and (c) (2007). Mother is forty-three
years old and thus is not eligible for old-age insurance benefits. See Act § 202(a)(2); 20 C.F.R. § 404.310(a) (2007). Claimant is Mother's natural child,
is eleven years old, lives in her care and is eligible to receive child's benefits
on NH's account. Therefore, Mother is entitled to mother's benefits.
Mother's eligibility for mother's benefits begins with the first month covered by
her application in which she met all the other requirements for entitlement. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.341(a) (2007). Since Mother's entitlement to mother's insurance benefits
is dependent upon Claimant's eligibility for child's insurance benefits, she can only
be entitled to benefits six months prior to June 2007, the month in which Claimant's
application was filed. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.340(e), 404.621(a)(2).
We believe an SSA adjudicator could find Claimant entitled to inherit from NH through
Tennessee intestacy law and therefore eligible for child's insurance benefits up to
six months prior to the month in which his application was filed. We also believe
an SSA adjudicator could find Mother entitled to mother's insurance benefits for the
Mary Ann S~
Regional Chief Counsel
Christopher G. H~
Assistant Regional Counsel