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Schafer v. Astrue

United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
641 F.3d 49 (4th Cir. 2011)


Janice Schafer (plaintiff) and Don Schafer were married. Don was diagnosed with cancer and deposited his sperm into a sperm bank. Don’s intention was that Janice would use the sperm to conceive a child after his death. Don did not, however, state this intent in writing. Don died; he was domiciled in Virginia at the time. Janice used Don’s sperm to conceive a child via in vitro fertilization approximately seven years after Don’s death. After the child, W.M.S., was born, Janice applied on W.M.S.’s behalf to the Social Security Administration (SSA) (defendant) for surviving-child benefits. The SSA denied the claim, because it determined that W.M.S. was not Don’s legal child under Virginia law, as applied under the Social Security Act (Act). Specifically, the Act provided that a posthumously conceived child qualified as a “child” of an insured individual only if the child could inherit from the individual under the intestacy laws of the state in which the individual was domiciled at the time of the individual’s death. Virginia law did not recognize the parenthood of any individual whose biological child was born more than 10 months after the individual’s death. The district court affirmed the SSA’s decision. Janice appealed, arguing that the intestacy law provision did not apply if there was no dispute as to the child’s parentage.

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