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decided: April 28, 1958.



Warren, Black, Frankfurter, Douglas, Burton, Clark, Harlan, Brennan, Whittaker

Author: Warren

[ 356 U.S. Page 275]

 MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question before the Court is whether the proceeds of certain insurance policies on the life of the decedent, payable to named beneficiaries and irrevocably assigned by the insured, should be included in the estate of the decedent for the purposes of the federal estate tax. The facts are not in dispute. In 1934 decedent, then aged 76, purchased a series of annuity-life insurance policy combinations. Three single-premium life insurance policies, at face values of $200,000, $100,000, and $50,000, respectively, were obtained without the requirement of a medical examination. As a condition to selling decedent each life insurance policy, the companies involved required decedent also to purchase a separate, single-premium, nonrefundable life annuity policy. The premiums for each life insurance policy and for each annuity policy were fixed at regular rates. The size of each annuity, however, was calculated so that in the event the annuitant-insured died prematurely the annuity premium, less the amount allocated to annuity payments already made, would combine with the companion life insurance premium, plus interest, to equal the amount of insurance proceeds to be paid.*fn1 Each annuity policy could have

[ 356 U.S. Page 276]

     been purchased without the insurance policy for the same premium charged for it under the annuity-life insurance combination.

The decedent's children were primary beneficiaries of the insurance policies; the Fidelity-Philadelphia Trust Company, as trustee of a trust established by decedent, was named beneficiary of the interests of any of decedent's children who predeceased her. In the year of purchase, decedent assigned all rights and benefits under two of the life insurance policies to her children and under the other to the Fidelity-Philadelphia Trust Company as trustee. These rights and benefits included the rights to receive dividends, to change the beneficiaries, to surrender the policies, and to assign them. Dividends were received, but, as far as the record discloses, none of the other rights was exercised. A gift tax on these transfers was paid by the decedent in 1935. In 1938 decedent amended the above-mentioned trust so that it became irrevocable. As the Government concedes, the decedent retained no beneficial or reversionary interest in the trust.

The insured died in 1946. The proceeds of the three insurance policies were not included in her estate in the estate tax return. The Commissioner of Internal Revenue determined that these proceeds should have been included and assessed a deficiency accordingly. The adjusted tax was paid by the executors, and when claim for refund was denied, this action for refund followed. The District Court entered judgment for the taxpayers, but the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed. 241 F.2d 690. We granted certiorari.*fn2 354 U.S. 921.

[ 356 U.S. Page 277]

     It is conceded by the parties that the question of whether the proceeds should be included in the estate is not determinable by the federal estate tax provision dealing with life insurance proceeds. Cf. Helvering v. Le Gierse, 312 U.S. 531. To support the decision below, the Government argues that the proceeds are includible in the estate under Section 811 (c)(1)(B) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1939, which includes, in the estate of the decedent, property, to the extent of the decedent's interest therein, which the decedent had transferred without adequate and full consideration, under which transfer the decedent

"has retained for his life . . . (i) the possession or enjoyment of, or the right to income from, the property . . . ."

The Government contends that the annuity payments, which were retained until death, were income from property transferred by the decedent to her children through the use of the life insurance policies.

On the other hand, petitioners, executors of the estate, assert that the annuity payments were income from the annuity policies, which were separate property from the insurance policies, and that since decedent had assigned away the life insurance ...

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