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A Better Partnership
December 28, 2012

MSC Opinion: Twins conceived with IVF after father's death cannot inherit from him, nor collect SSI

In In Re Certified Question (Mattison v Social Security Commissioner), the Michigan Supreme Court considered whether the plaintiff's twin children, who were conceived via artificial insemination after the death of their father, could inherit from their father under Michigan intestacy law. The court concluded that children born after the death of a parent who were not in gestation at the time the parent died may not inherit from that parent under Michigan intestacy law.

The plaintiff and her husband began an in vitro fertilization program in October 2000. After the plaintiff's husband died unexpectedly in January of 2001, the plaintiff continued the program and gave birth to twins in October of 2001. Shortly thereafter, the plaintiff filed an application for social security survivors' benefits on behalf of the twins based on their father's earning records. The administrative law judge found that the twins were not entitled social security survivors' benefits because under Michigan intestacy law, they could not inherit from their father. The plaintiff then filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, and the parties stipulated that the 'determinative issue' was whether the twins were able to inherit from their father under Michigan intestacy law. This question was certified to the Michigan Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court noted that under Michigan intestacy law, descendants who are alive when the decedent dies (provided they live more than 120 hours after the decedent's death) and descendants who are in gestation when the decedent dies (provided they live at least 120 hours after birth) have intestate inheritance rights from the decedent. The plaintiff's twins were not alive nor in gestation when their father died; therefore, they did not have inheritance rights as their father's heirs under Michigan intestacy law. In addition, the court found that the Michigan statute providing that a child is presumed to be the natural issue of both spouses if born or conceived during the marriage was inapplicable, as the death of the plaintiff's husband legally terminated the marriage. Thus, the court concluded that the plaintiff's twins could not inherit from their father as his children because they were conceived after his death.

In dissent, Justice Young stated that he would have declined to answer the certified question. Justice Young noted that the Michigan Supreme Court may not issue advisory opinions, and because there was nothing unclear or debatable about whether children born after the death of their parent may take as heirs under Michigan intestacy law, the district court should have been able to answer the certified question without the assistance of the Supreme Court.

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