Michigan Supreme Court Rules Twins Conceived by In Vitro Fertilization and Who Were In Gestation Only After Father’s Death Cannot Inherit Under Michigan’s Laws of Intestacy (In re Mattison)

This remarkable opinion issued from the Supreme Court yesterday, December 21, 2012.  In response to a certified question from the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan, the Supreme Court held:  Children born after the death of a parent who were not “in gestation” at the time of the parent’s death may not inherit under Michigan intestacy law.

The Social Security Act authorizes disbursement of survivor benefits for children dependent on a deceased worker prior to his death.  Here, the children (twins conceived by in vitro fertilization using the deceased worker’s sperm) sought social security benefits.  The federal district court requested the Michigan Supreme Court to answer the question whether under Michigan’s law of intestacy, the children could have inherited survivor’s benefits in this case from the father.

The Court here answers no because, in short, there is no Michigan law that would allow for inheritance where the beneficiaries were not either born or in gestation at the time of the decedent’s death.

Although MCL 700.2114(1)(a) addresses paternity regarding children born of married parents, and addresses assisted reproductive technology, this statute is silent concerning children who are born by such methods after the marriage is terminated by death of one of the parties, i.e., the father.

Since there is no statutory provision that would contemplate intestate succession rights for the twins, they did not “survive” their father as his heirs in the eyes of the law.

Although the case addresses entitlement to social security benefits, it would apply to any benefits to which the children might be statutorily or otherwise entitled (in the absence of a testamentary instrument concerning same), including workers’ compensation benefits, etc.

The parties could have included a testamentary provision to allow for the entitlement and that would have likely removed the necessity to have the legal question answered by the Michigan Supreme Court as to whether or not and to what extent the statutory laws of intestacy did or did not accommodate the situation.

Here is the case:  In re Mattison (Certified Question)

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