Woodward v. Commissioner of Social Security
760 N.E.2d 257, 435 Mass. 536 (2002)
Lauren and Warren were
married. He was undergoing cancer treatment. He froze sperm in the event
Warren died. Lauren was the
administrator of his estate. She had herself artificially inseminated and
gave birth to twins 24 months after Warren's death.
Lauren then attempted to get
Social Security benefits for the children. The Social Security
Administration rejected her claims because she had not established that
the children met the legal definition of Warren's children. Lauren
Warren obviously failed to
acknowledge the children or show evidence that he intended to contribute
to their support.
That's required under
The Trial Court certified the
question up to the Massachusetts Supreme Court.
Massachusetts Supreme Court
found that a posthumously conceived child could theoretically be an heir,
if certain conditions were met.
The four conditions for a
posthumously conceived child to be considered an heir are:
The child must be the
genetic child of the father.
The father must have
intended to support the child.
The conception must occur
within a 'reasonable' amount of time.
Notice must be given to all
The Court looked to the
'best interests of the children' and found that there is no Statute that
bars their claims by law.
The Court noted that
Massachusetts State law provides for posthumously born children to
inherit via intestate succession.
But that law applies to
children conceived when the father was still alive.
The Court looked to the need
for intestate transfer to be
efficient, orderly, and provide certainty to heirs. They felt that time
limits could apply, but that they did not need to address the issue at
In theory, if one could
have another child 20 years after death, where does that leave the
preexisting heirs? Without some Statute of Limitations, they can never
be sure of the final division of assets.
The Court looked to the
right of reproductive freedom, and found that the children cannot be
heirs unless there was intent to procreate.
There was no evidence that
Warren had consented to have a posthumous child.
In order to establish that
the children were the legal heirs Lauren could have to establish
Warren's intent to create a posthumous heir.
Under the Uniform Parentage
Act § 707, a deceased spouse who is
the parent of a posthumously conceived child is not a parent unless the
deceased spouse consented to the conception in a record.
Restatement of Property,
Wills, and Other Donative Transfers § 2.5
provides that a child must be born within a 'reasonable time' after the
decedent's death in order to inherit.