Industrial Trust Co. v. United States
296 U.S. 220 (1935)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Industrial Trust Co. v. United States, 296 U.S. 220 (1935)

Industrial Trust Co. v. United States

No. 213

Argued November 22, 1935

Decided December 9, 1935

296 U.S. 220

CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF CLAIMS

Syllabus

1. Acts of Congress must be construed, if possible, so as to avoid grave doubts of their constitutionality. P. 296 U. S. 221.

2. A life insurance policy taken out in 1892 by the insured and paid up in 1912 was payable to others if they survived him, but otherwise to his estate. No power was reserved in him to change beneficiaries, borrow on the policy or surrender it. The others survived him when he died in 1930. Held: that § 302(g), Revenue Act 1926, which is the same as § 402(f), Revenue Act 1918, may not be construed as making the amount receivable by the beneficiaries a part of the gross estate, notwithstanding subdivision (h) of § 302 of the 1926 Act, which declares that subdivision (g) of that section, along with others, shall apply to

"transfers, trusts, estates, interests, rights, powers, and relinquishment of powers, as severally enumerated and described therein, whether made, created, arising, existing, exercised, or relinquished before or after the enactment of this Act."

Bingham v. United States, ante, p. 296 U. S. 211. Pp. 296 U. S. 221-222.

80 Ct.Cls. 647, 9 F.Supp. 817, reversed.

Certiorari to review a judgment dismissing a petition in a suit to recover an amount exacted as part of an estate tax.

MR. JUSTICE SUTHERLAND delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioners, as executors of the estate of William M. Greene, who died in 1930, filed an estate tax return and

Page 296 U. S. 221

paid the amount of the federal estate tax disclosed thereby. A paid-up life insurance policy of $42,000 was omitted from the return. The Commissioner of Internal Revenue declared a deficiency, and included the amount of this policy in the gross estate. Petitioners filed a claim for refund, which was rejected by the Commissioner. Thereupon, this proceeding was brought in the Court of Claims to recover the amount of the claim. That court held against the right to recover, and dismissed the petition.

The policy, issued in 1892, promised to make payment to the wife of the decedent, as sole beneficiary if living, and, if not living, to the surviving children of the decedent, and, in the event of none surviving, then to the executors, administrators, or assigns of the decedent. In 1912, the policy became a paid-up policy requiring no further payment of premiums. No power was reserved to change beneficiaries, borrow on the policy, or surrender it. The wife of the decedent predeceased him, but he was survived by three children, to whom the proceeds of the policy were paid upon his death.

The case of Lewellyn v. Frick,268 U. S. 238, arose under the Revenue Act of 1918. This case arises under the Act of 1926, § 302(g), which is the same as § 402(f) of the former act. Subdivision (h) of the 1926 act, however, provides that subdivisions (b), (c), (d), (e), (f), and (g) shall apply to

"transfers, trusts, estates, interests, rights, powers, and relinquishment of powers, as severally enumerated and described therein, whether made, created, arising, existing, exercised, or relinquished before or after the enactment of this Act."

Whether any of these terms apply to an amount receivable by a beneficiary under a policy such as we have here is fairly debatable. See Wyeth v. Crooks, 33 F.2d 1018, 1019. If any of them does apply, the provision is open to grave doubt as to its constitutionality, and the rule of the Frick case controls.

Page 296 U. S. 222

The foregoing facts bring the case clearly within our decision just announced in Bingham v. United States, ante, p. 296 U. S. 211, and the judgment of the court below is accordingly

Reversed.

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