Dated Policies, Changing Times: Intestacy Laws
In 2002, Karen Capato filed for Social Security survivors benefits for her twins, who were conceived via IVF and born 18 months after their father, Capato’s husband, died. Her claim was denied because the twins were born in Florida, where the law denies a posthumously conceived child any claims against a decedent’s estate unless the decedent has made provisions for that child in his or her will. This law rendered the Capato twins ineligible for Social Security survivors benefits.
The case then went before a district court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, the U.S. Supreme Court, and finally back to the Third Circuit, where the final ruling was that the Capato twins were ineligible due to Florida intestacy law.
The Third Circuit judge, in spite of denying the twins any Social Security benefits, noted that the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) laws regarding survivors benefits were written long before technologies such as IVF existed, and that it was unfortunate that the children were legally ineligible for benefits because theirs were “new world” circumstances subject to an antiquated law.
Furthermore, the Third Circuit judge urged Congress to act swiftly to correct these and other such dated policies that were appropriate to the era in which they were written, but no longer applicable. As modern science and technology continue to advance, this will continue to be an issue lawmakers must contend with.