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Social Security appeal goes to the U.S. Supreme Court

If your application for Social Security benefits was denied, you may not have known that there is an appeals process available to you. One woman's appeal recently landed her before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that twins conceived posthumously through in vitro fertilization were not entitled to Social Security survivors benefits. The ruling affirms the action taken by the Social Security Administration, which had found the children ineligible for benefits based on the local state's inheritance law.

The woman had challenged the SSA's action based on the statutory language of the 1993 Social Security Act, which defines a child as the biological offspring of a married couple. Because there was no dispute as to her twins' biological parentage, the woman believed that the state inheritance law should not apply.

To prevail on appeal, the woman needed to prove that the SSA's interpretation was unreasonable, as a matter of law. The Supreme Court disagreed, finding the SSA's action to be in accordance with Social Security's intended purpose of providing benefits to "those the deceased wage earner actually supported in his or her lifetime." However, the Supreme Court also acknowledged that this interpretation was not the only possible one, which may allow for different outcomes in the nearly 100 similar cases pending before the SSA, many in states where posthumously conceived children may receive inheritances even in the absence of a will.

If your application for Social Security benefits has been denied, you can request reconsideration from the SSA. If your reconsideration is denied by the SSA, you then face a hearing before an Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) judge. If denied at that level, additional appeals may be possible before a local judge. At each step along the way, an attorney can help you prepare the best evidence to support your claim and help you obtain all of the benefits for which you may be eligible.

Source: NPR news, "Court: No Benefits For Kids Conceived After Dad Died," Nina Totenberg, May 21, 2012

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