Court rules in vitro children not entitled to Social Security benefits

The United States District Court for the Northern District of New York has upheld a Social Security Administration (SSA) decision that children born after the death of their father are not entitled to Social Security survivor benefits. The Court affirmed the agency’s decision, ruling that under the provisions of New York’s Estates, Powers and Trusts Law (“EPTL”) the children were not entitled to inherit under New York law.

Sharon MacNeil filed suit challenging a decision by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration that her children, twins conceived via in vitro fertilization eleven years after her husband died, were ineligible for survivors’ insurance benefits.

According to court documents,

Sharon and Eric MacNeil were married on October 1, 1994, a year after they graduated from college. Several months into their marriage, Eric was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of 23. The couple, knowing that the cancer might be terminal or that treatment might render Eric sterile, decided to bank Eric’s sperm. Eric died intestate on May 24, 1996, at age 24. In June 2007, eleven years after Eric’s death, Sharon underwent in vitro fertilization using the stored sperm. She gave birth to twins, A.T.M. and C.E.M., on February 14, 2008.

In 2009, MacNeil filed for child survivors’ benefits for her twins with the SSA, based upon the wage earnings of their deceased father. The SSA denied them. MacNeil then sought a hearing before an Administrative Law judge. (ALJ)  The only question presented before the ALJ was a legal one, whether the twins qualified as “children” under the Social Security Act. The ALJ concluded that, although the kids were biologically Eric MacNeil’s, they were not entitled to inherit under the applicable provisions of New York intestacy law because they were conceived after Eric’s death.

The court wrote

 Section 4-1.1(c) deems those children conceived before a decedent’s death but born alive thereafter as having “survived” the decedent, enabling these individuals to take by operation of Section 4-1.1(a). The treatment of other potential distributees born after the death of the decedent is determined by omission: children who did not “survive” the decedent, or are not otherwise deemed by statute to survive the decedent, do not inherit in intestacy.

So, in other words, the rule is, if the children were conceived while the father was alive and were born after he died, they would be entitled to the survivor benefits. Since they were conceived and born after the father died, in this case 11 years after, they aren’t entitled to the benefits.

So, the court concluded, “… we can only apply the law as it was written, and under the law as written it is clear that Congress has not provided benefits for children in the category of the MacNeil twins.”

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What Happens When You Challenge a Claim Against an Estate?

Each year, it is increasingly common to see claims filed against an estate. This is because many people write their wills and trusts without a knowledgeable estate planning attorney present to help. It may also be due to increasing financial struggles and changing family dynamics. If someone is making a claim against an estate that isn’t valid, it’s important that you challenge the claim in a court of law.

Will concept

Know Your Rights: There are a lot of New York estate planning laws, and it’s important to get a solid understanding about whether your challenge has validity. Whenever you want to challenge a claim against an estate, the first thing you should do is talk to a probate attorney. Getting a thorough understanding of your rights will equip you with the knowledge you need to successfully submit your challenge.
Reasons to Challenge a Claim Against an Estate: When someone passes away, many people will emerge who feel entitled to more money than they’re left. This may include friends, family members, or anyone claiming to be owed debt by the deceased. If someone is submitting a claim against an estate and you don’t think they have a right to the assets they’re claiming, it’s important that you submit a legal challenge in a timely manner.
The Probate Process: Anyone filing a claim against an estate must submit formal information in writing to the court. They are required to prove the validity of their claim amount in full, and they must also prove that any assets held by the state are not sufficient to pay the debt. If you don’t feel that these requirements have been satisfied, you will work with a probate attorney to submit a challenge.

If you think a friend, family member, or creditor has filed an unfair claim against an estate, contact a New York estate planning lawyer right away. These cases require expert knowledge and extensive experience. To get the legal assistance you need to win your challenge, call the lawyers at the Law Offices of Jeffrey Weinstein for a free consultation at 212-693-3737

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