Saltonstall v. Saltonstall
276 U.S. 260 (1928)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Saltonstall v. Saltonstall, 276 U.S. 260 (1928)

Saltonstall v. Saltonstall

No. 144

Argued January 5, 6, 1928

Decided February 20, 1928

276 U.S. 260

Syllabus

1. A decision of a state court applying a state statute over the ambiguous objection that it is "unconstitutional" is reviewable here insofar as that court interpreted the objection as based on the federal Constitution, and, in its opinion, sustained the statute under that instrument. P. 276 U. S. 267.

2. By Massachusetts Acts of 1909, c. 527, § 8, a transfer of property passing to anyone through the failure of any person to exercise a power of appointment is made taxable under an Act of 1907 which, as amended, 1916, taxes property passing by gift made or intended to take effect in possession or enjoyment after the death of the donor. A trust, established before the dates of these acts, when interests passing to children were not subject to transfer tax, gave

Page 276 U. S. 261

the income, after the settlor's death, to his children (with gifts over), but reserved to him, while living, the power, with consent of one trustee, to alter or terminate the trust. The settlor having died while these acts were in force, without having exercised the power, the entire interest passing to the children was held taxable as of the date of his decease.

Held:

(1) That the state court's construction of the taxing Acts as imposing a succession tax, and of the trust instrument as creating a power of appointment within the Act of 1909, would be accepted by this Court. P. 276 U. S. 269.

(2) Imposition of the tax under the statute of 1909 was consistent with the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the tax being laid not on the donor, but on the beneficiaries, the gifts taxed having never passed to them until after the donor's death subsequent to the enactment of the statute, and the basis of the tax being the value of the gifts at that operative moment. Nichols v. Coolidge,274 U. S. 531, distinguished. P. 276 U. S. 270.

(3) So long as the privilege of succession has not been fully exercised, it may be reached by a tax. P. 276 U. S. 271.

256 Mass. 519 affirmed.

Error to a judgment of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts instructing trustees that interests of beneficiaries under a trust were subject to succession taxes. The beneficiaries, having prayed a contrary ruling in answer to the trustees' petition, sued out this writ of error against their co-respondent, James Jackson, Treasurer and Receiver General of the state, and the trustees. The opinion below is reported sub nom. Saltonstall v. Treasurer & Receiver General.

Page 276 U. S. 267

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