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 of sterility.
  • 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 appealed.
    • Warren obviously failed to acknowledge the children or show evidence that he intended to contribute to their support.
      • That’s required under Massachusetts law.
  • 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 interested parties.
    • 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 this time.
      • 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.