Capato Ruling Is Bad News/Good News

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on a case that I posted about on March 23. (

In Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security vs Capato, on Behalf of B. N. C. et al., the Court reversed the decision of the Third U.S. District Court and ruled that Karen Capato is not entitled to receive Social Security benefits for her twins, who were conceived after her husband’s death.

Karen and Robert “Nick” Capato married in 1999. Tragically, Nick Capato was diagnosed with esophageal cancer shortly after. Instead of just accepting defeat and coping with this heartbreaking disease, the couple elected to prepare for their future. Karen and Nick wanted the prospect of conceiving biological children, so they chose to deposit Nick’s sperm at a fertility clinic with the intent of conceiving via in vitro fertilization (IVF) at a later date. While they were able to naturally conceive and birth a son during their brief time together, Nick passed away from cancer in March 2002. A year-and-a-half later, Karen gave birth again - to twins conceived through IVF using her deceased husband’s sperm.  Karen later applied for Social Security benefits for the twins and was denied by the SSA. The trial court agreed, but the appellate court reversed, and the Supreme Court reversed and remanded the appellate decision, stating that the SSA’s original determination was justified.

There is both good news and bad news out of this ruling. On the one hand,  the Court decision defers to state law; in Florida, where Nick lived at the time of his death, state law does not entitle children conceived post-mortem to inherit from the deceased biological parent. Had Nick lived in a state where the law allowed the posthumously conceived twins to inherit his estate, they would have been entitled to Nick’s Social Security survivor benefits as well.

The good news is that the decision refutes Karen Capato’s argument that the biology and her legal marriage to Nick entitled the children to Nick’s Social Security benefits. Rather, the Court’s written opinion points out that someone biologically related to a child, such as a sperm donor, is not necessarily a parent to the child. This may also be interpreted conversely—that you don’t necessarily have to be a biological parent to have your children (conceived through assisted reproduction) inherit through your estate. The decision also states that parentage is a separate issue from whether or not a couple is legally married.

In summary, the wording of the decision offers support for a child’s right to benefits or inheritance from a parent who is neither legally married nor biologically related to the child, such as in the case of a gay or lesbian non-biological parent. The downside, however, is that the Social Security inheritance rights of children conceived via assisted reproduction will continue to differ from state to state.

For further information, the text of the Court’s opinion can be found here:


Rich Vaughn
Richard Vaughn

Attorney Rich Vaughn is founder and principal of International Fertility Law Group, one of the world’s largest and best-known law firms focused exclusively on assisted reproductive technology, or ART, including in vitro fertilization (IVF), surrogacy, sperm donation or egg donation. Rich is co-author of the book “Developing A Successful Assisted Reproduction Technology Law Practice,” American Bar Association Publishing, 2017.

Peiya Wang
Paralegal (律师助理)

Peiya Wang joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2015, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases and provides translation services for many of IFLG’s international clients. Peiya received her bachelor’s degree from Beijing Technologies and Business University, where she majored in Marketing. She moved to the United States in 2012 to attend Northeast University in Boston, Massachusetts, receiving a Master of Science degree in Global Studies and International Affairs in 2014. Peiya moved to Los Angeles in 2015 and received her paralegal certification from UCLA Extension. When away from the office, Peiya is a dragon boat paddler and a ballroom dancer, where she favors Rumbas and Cha-chas. She is fluent in Mandarin and English.

Luis Sosa

Luis R. Sosa joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2016, where he enjoys pursuing his passion for family and reproductive law. While working toward his bachelor’s degree at Florida International University, Luis worked as a paralegal and legal assistant for family law litigation firms in Miami and Washington, D.C. As a paralegal and case manager for IFLG, Luis, who is bilingual in English and Spanish, manages surrogacy, egg donation and other reproductive law cases. In addition to spending time with husband Randy and dog Marty, Luis enjoys being outdoors and appreciating the arts.

Toni Hughes

After receiving her B.S. in Business Management, Toni joined IFLG to pursue her dream of working in the legal field. As a Paralegal with over 10 years of experience in the assisted reproduction technology field, Toni is our Managing Paralegal, responsible for training and managing our paralegal staff. From drafting legal documents to assisting our clients with post-birth matters, Toni embraces the challenge of learning something new in this field each day. Besides spending time with her son, Jordan, Toni enjoys exploring new things, cooking, spending time with family and friends, and serving as a Youth Advisor for “Next Generation.”

Miesha Cowart
Financial Coordinator

Miesha Cowart joined IFLG as a financial specialist in 2014 following a successful career in development and business finance. Miesha previously worked for 10 years in the construction industry as a controller and for 13 years as Development Coordinator for the non-profit U.S. Fund for UNICEF. In her free time, Miesha works with “Next Generation” at her church. “They are my heartbeats!” she says of the youth in her community.


Kim has over 25 years of experience in the legal field and has worked exclusively in surrogacy and assisted reproduction law since 1999. Kim is a senior case manager of surrogacy and egg donation cases, and is also responsible for managing parental establishment cases and interacting with IFLG’s Of Counsel attorneys across the country. With three children of her own, Kim understands the importance of family and finds working in this area of law a rewarding experience.

Rich Vaughn

Attorney Rich Vaughn combined his personal passion as a father of twin boys born via assisted reproductive technology (ART) with more than 20 years of experience in business and technology law to build International Fertility Law Group. Today IFLG is one of the most successful and best-known law firms in the world focused exclusively on fertility law, helping thousands of intended parents through empathetic listening, compassionate guidance, and unmatched legal expertise. As an advocate for reproductive freedom, Rich also contributes his knowledge and time to improving the understanding and practice of ART law, most recently as a founder of and speaker at the first Cambridge University International Surrogacy Symposium held in June 2019, as immediate past chair of the American Bar Association ART Committee, and as a popular presenter to law schools, faculty and advocacy organizations all over the world.

Elizabeth Tamayo

Elizabeth received her Bachelors of Science degree in Criminal Justice from California State University of Los Angeles. Shortly after graduating, she continued her education at the University of California, Los Angeles where she obtained her Paralegal certificate. Elizabeth is fluent in Spanish and has been in the legal field since 2009. She is excited to be a part of the IFLG Team helping families realize their dreams.

Sunny Chien

Sunny joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2017, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases for many of IFLG’s international clients. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from California State University of Los Angeles, where she graduated cum laude. Sunny is bilingual in English and Mandarin and has extensive experience as a legal assistant and paralegal at Los Angeles-area law firms. She is excited to be part of the IFLG team. In her spare time, Sunny enjoys spending time with her family and their dog, going to the beach, cooking, and being outdoors.

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Molly O'Brien

Fertility law attorney Molly O’Brien began working in the field of assisted reproduction technology (ART) in 2005, at an egg donation agency and a surrogacy agency where she became familiar with all aspects of in-vitro fertilization, egg donation and the financial aspects of surrogacy. Since becoming an attorney in 2011, Molly has drafted and negotiated surrogacy, egg donation, sperm donation embryo donation agreements for hundreds of her clients all over the world.