Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Woodward v. Commissoner of Social Security case brief

Woodward v. Commissoner of Social Security case brief summary
435 Mass. 536

SYNOPSIS: The United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts certified the question: if a married man and woman arrange for sperm to be withdrawn from the husband for the purpose of artificially impregnating the wife, and the woman is impregnated with that sperm after the man has died, will children resulting from such pregnancy enjoy the inheritance rights of natural children under Massachusetts' law of intestate succession?

OVERVIEW: Plaintiff wife gave birth to twin girls. The children were conceived through artificial insemination using her deceased husband's preserved semen. Later, the wife applied for Social Security survivor benefits. Defendant commission denied benefits, concluding, among other things, the children did not qualify for benefits because they were not entitled to inherit from the husband under the Massachusetts intestacy and paternity laws. The wife appealed to the federal court, which certified a question to the state court.

The state court advised that to answer the certified question, it must consider whether and to what extent such children could take as intestate heirs of the deceased genetic parent consistent with the purposes of the Massachusetts intestacy statute, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 190, and not by any assumptions of the common law. Further, the state court indicated the question whether posthumously conceived genetic children could enjoy inheritance rights under the intestacy statute implicated three powerful state interests: the best interests of children, the state's interest in the orderly administration of estates, and the reproductive rights of the genetic parent.

OUTCOME: The state court answered the question as follows: in certain circumstances, a child resulting from posthumous reproduction may enjoy the inheritance rights. These limited circumstances include, inter alia, where it is demonstrated: (1) a genetic relationship exists between the child and the decedent, and (2) the decedent affirmatively consented to posthumous conception and to support of any resulting child.

Woodward v. Commissioner of Social Security (Mass. 2002) [16 CB 102]: Wife who used deceased husband’s sperm to conceive children sought survivor and children’s Social Security benefits, which turns on the children being able to inherit under MA intestacy law.  Rule: In limited circumstances, posthumously conceived children may inherit under MA law.  The surviving parent must show a genetic relationship between the child and the deceased parent and proof that the deceased parent affirmatively consented to posthumous conception and support of any resulting child.
a.   Rather than bright line rule, result is achieved through balancing of competing state interests: best interests of child, orderly administration of estates, and protection of deceased’s reproductive rights
b.   R(3d) Wills § 2.5 – cmt.1 specifically recognizes children conceived through use of a deceased spouse’s frozen sperm

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