Wills, Trusts, and Estates, Pages 111–116

Woodward v. Commissioner of Social Security

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, 2002


Plaintiff's husband had his sperm frozen before getting cancer treatments. He died from cancer. Plaintiff had herself artificially inseminated using her dead husband's frozen sperm. She gave birth to twins two years after her husband died.

She then applied for Social Security survivor benefits for herself and her children. The SSA rejected her claim because the children "are not entitled to inherit from [the dead husband]."

Procedural History:

Plaintiff filed in district court, and it certified the question on Massachusetts succession law to the Massachusetts court.

Plaintiff's Argument:

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[B]y virtue of their genetic connection with the decedent, posthumously conceived children must always be permitted to enjoy the inheritance rights of the deceased parent's children under our law of intestate succession.

Defendant's Argument:

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[B]ecause posthumously conceived children are not "in being" as of the date of the parent's death, they are always barred from enjoying such inheritance rights.


Are plaintiff's daughters the "issue" of her dead husband?


Whether posthumously conceived children can inherit implicates three state interests:

  1. The best interests of the children
    • Children conceived in such a way may already be stigmatized. They should be protected in court and have the same rights as any other children. These include the right to financial support from their parents and their estates.
    • The legislature has not passed any laws against the rights of posthumously conceived children in the years since such technology has become possible. They have instead encouraged the technology.
  2. The orderly administration of the estate
    • Children conceived before the intestate parent's death must be protected too.
    • The intestate statute furthers these goals by:
      1. Requiring certainty of filiation of the child
      2. Establishing a time limit on filing claims (It may be too low to be constitutional, but that is not at issue here.)
    • Nowadays genetic test is good, so that's not a issue.
  3. The reproductive rights of the genetic parent
    • The dead donor parent must have clearly consented to posthumous parentage and to support of such children.
      • Just preserving your sperm does not imply that you want it to be used after your death. You could be planning for a contingency that stops you from having kids while alive.


If the genetic, time, and intent requirements are all met, posthumously conceived children can inherit from their dead parent.