Court: Daughter can't receive dead dad's benefits

August 31, 2011 - 5:55 PM

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — An Iowa girl who was born two years after her father died is not eligible to receive his Social Security Benefits, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' decision this week reversed a district court ruling that granted benefits to the girl, who is now 8 years old.

Her mother, Patti Beeler of West Branch, had filed for the benefits on behalf of her daughter in 2003 but was denied by the Social Security Administration because of a state law's definition of "natural child" and the inheritance rights of a child. Bruce Beeler died of leukemia in 2001, and Patti Beeler was later artificially inseminated with sperm the couple had decided to preserve.

Patti Beeler sued to challenge the agency's decision and won, but that was overturned by the St. Louis-based court, which ruled Monday that the girl did not satisfy requirements under Iowa's inheritance laws to be eligible for her father's benefits.

Telephone messages left Wednesday for Beeler and her attorney were not immediately returned. The Social Security Administration referred questions to the U.S. attorney's office, but an administration spokesman said in an email to the AP that only a handful of cases had arisen in recent years.

The government has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the issue, after a federal appeals court ruled that a child conceived after a father's death was entitled to Social Security benefits. The request cites 18 different cases, including the Iowa case. The U.S. attorney's office said similar cases have been decided in favor of and against the Social Security Administration in other courts of appeals. The Supreme Court has not decided whether to grant the request.

No data was available on the number of pregnancies conceived through artificial means after a father has died, but information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that more than 61,400 infants were born in 2008, the most recent data available, after being conceived through assisted reproductive technology. The most common form is in vitro fertilization. The data was collected from 426 fertility clinics across the country.

At dispute in the Iowa case is an outdated law that limited inheritance rights to a child who had a relationship with a person at the time of that person's death. The Iowa Legislature passed a bill earlier this year granting inheritance rights to children conceived posthumously, but did not make those rights retroactive. The measure was signed into law in May.

Bruce Beeler died May 4, 2001, after undergoing an unsuccessful bone marrow transplant. He was diagnosed with leukemia in 2000 before he and Patti were married. The couple preserved his sperm at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in the event of his death. The couple then moved up their wedding date and they were married in December 2000.

Court records show Bruce Beeler signed documents bequeathing the sperm sample to his wife for the purpose of conceiving a child. The documents also stated that he accepted and acknowledged paternity and support for any resulting children. He died about three months later at age 37. His daughter was conceived in July 2002 and was born in April 2003.

The court said Beeler's death was "profoundly sad" but that state law did not provide his daughter with inheritance rights necessary for her to receive his Social Security benefits. It said because the girl was not conceived until after his death, "she did not have an existing relationship with Bruce Beeler at the time of his death, and she is not entitled to inheritance rights under Iowa law."

The appeals court ruled that Bruce Beeler could not have recognized his daughter as his child and could not have had a relationship with her.

"It would stretch the statutory language too far to say that a child not yet in existence can be 'recognized' by a man as 'his child,'" the court wrote.