Should IVF twins born to widow receive Social Security survivor benefits?

This morning NPR reported a story about a widow who is suing for Social Security survivor benefits for the twins she conceived via IVF using her late husband’s sperm years after he’d passed away.

My first thought was, why does Social Security provide survivor benefits? Isn’t that what life insurance is? It would seem that if you’re making enough money in life that your survivor benefits would help your family, you can afford life insurance premiums.

Second, aren’t survivor benefits supposed to be a safety net in case a wage earner dies leaving behind children to support? This widow isn’t in that situation. She took a look at her finances and then decided she could afford two more kids without her husband’s income. Not only could she afford the kids, but she could afford the tens of thousands of dollars it costs to buy multiple rounds of IVF. After giving birth she filed for survivor benefits.

Even the name of the entitlement gives away that this woman has no case. We’re talking about “survivor” benefits. People born after a person dies are not survivors of that person.

Weirdly, the Social Security Administration is not defending its denial of benefits based on the fact that children conceived posthumously are not survivors. As explains:

The Social Security Administration has taken the position that eligibility for benefits depends partly on whether the applicable state law would allow a posthumously conceived child to inherit property in the absence of a will.

In the Capato case, the state law at issue bars children conceived posthumously from inheritance unless they are named in a will. Capato’s only beneficiaries named in his will were his wife, their son and two children from a previous marriage.

This is the problem with government provision of entitlements like survivor benefits. Life insurance is set up simply. A wage earner buys a policy for a specific amount of payout, based on how much income he or she needs to replace. Survivors know, based on their payout, whether they can afford more children. This is a better system, and it shouldn’t be crowded out by Social Security. The Social Security version is inscrutable.

In an interesting twist, a right-to-life legal organization is filing an amicus brief  “Designed to educate the Court about the ‘array of serious dangers’ IVF poses to women, children, and society at large.”

Here you can read details on the case offered by Cornell.

Photo by ProgressOhio 

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