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Silverman v. Ginnes


decided: October 10, 1958.


Author: Goodrich

Before GOODRICH, STALEY and HASTIE, Circuit Judges.

GOODRICH, Circuit Judge.

This is an appeal from a judgment for the defendant in an action brought by the executors of Edwin H. Silverman to recover certain estate taxes paid by them under protest.

The facts of the case are simple and uncontroverted. Edwin H. Silverman, in his lifetime, bought some E bonds issued by the United States Government each in the amount of $1,000. Some of these bonds were registered as payable to him and Alice H. Silverman, his former wife, as co-owners. Others were registered as payable to him and one or other of his minor children as co-owners. Edwin Silverman delivered these bonds to Alice Silverman stating that they were outright gifts to her and the children respectively.He confirmed this gift in writing by a letter to her. But he never had the bonds reissued in the names of the respective donees. At his death the Commissioner of Internal Revenue sought to include the value of the bonds in Mr. Silverman's gross estate under ยง 811(e) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1939 as an interest in property held jointly.*fn1

Counsel for the Government and the District Director of Internal Revenue stipulated that the only issue in the case is "whether under the circumstances a valid gift was made, sufficient to take the bonds out of the estate of the decedent." The trial court gave a negative answer, relying on the Treasury regulations that purport to prohibit transfer of such bonds and emphasizing that the regulations are terms of the contract which the decedent made with the Government when he bought the bonds.

The regulations are, of course, important. They provide that the form of registration must express the actual ownership of the bonds and will be conclusive of such ownership. In addition they state that savings bonds are not transferable and are payable only to the owners named thereon. The regulations provide further that valid judicial proceedings establishing rights in the bonds on behalf of certain designated classes of persons will be recognized except that "no such proceedings will be recognized if they would give effect to any attempted voluntary transfer inter vivos of the bond * * *." The pertinent regulations are set out at length in the margin.*fn2

It is not denied that these regulations which are of long standing have the force of law.*fn3 The question, however, is the scope of their application.

The language of the regulations is sweeping. If they really mean that the Government has, with regard to these bonds, created a nonalienable claim we are not disposed to dispute the constitutional power of Congress to do so. But the question to be faced is whether these regulations include not only the rights of the holder of the bond as against his Government, the debtor, but also whether they determine the rights of individual citizens against each other arising out of transactions with these Government bonds.

We are impressed with the results and the reasoning reached in such state cases as the following.

If one becomes the registered owner of one of these bonds in fraud of the rights of another he, or his administrator, will be compelled to hold the proceeds in trust for the person equitably entitled. Henderson's Adm'r v. Bewley, Ky.1953, 264 S.W.2d 680, 51 A.L.R.2d 159.

Likewise, where there was an agreement for assignment during the lifetime of the registered owner the person equitably entitled to the proceeds was given them. In re Hendricksen's Estate, 1953, 156 Neb. 463, 56 N.W.2d 711.

An interesting Pennsylvania case holds that the administrator of the registered owner can be compelled to pay the proceeds of the bonds to one to whom the completed gift was made. In re Estate of Diskin, 1932, 105 Pa.Super. 519, 161 A. 893.*fn4 As pointed out in In re Janusiki's Estate, 1951, 80 Pa.Dist. & Co.R. 373, under the regulations if the donee of a bond registered in the name of the donor has possession he cannot cash it. Neither can the administrator of the registered owner cash it because he does not have possession. The procedure is to require the possessor to turn the documents over to the administrator to be cashed. He, in turn, holds the proceeds for the equitable owner.*fn5

Likewise, a clearly written Florida decision sustained, as between the parties, an inter-vivos gift of savings bonds. Marshall v. Felker, 1945, 156 Fla. 476, 23 So.2d 555, 161 A.L.R. 167.

We think the distinction established in these state cases and others does not rest on fraud, although fraud was present in some of them.*fn6 The point is that with regard to payment by the issuer, the United States Government, the provisions of the contract including the regulations, govern. But the regulations do not apply to individual rights of persons who under the state law of property have become equitably entitled to the proceeds. The Nebraska court pointed out that the primary purpose of the Treasury Department regulations is to prevent the Government from being involved in suits between claimants to Government bonds.*fn7 The nuisance which would be involved in interpleader suits between rival claimants in these comparatively small transactions is too obvious to require extended comment. In this connection we are helped by the discussion of the court in District of Columbia v. Wilson, 1954, 94 U.S.App.D.C. 399, 216 F.2d 630. That case involved an inheritance tax in the District of Columbia rather than federal estate tax but the property which was the subject of the litigation was United States bonds series G. The court pointed out that the regulations appeared primarily designed to protect the Treasury against adverse claimants. 216 F.2d at page 633. See also Moore v. Brodrick, D.C.D.Kan. 1954, 123 F.Supp. 108, 109.

The subject matter is one on which courts have differed in opinion. The various state cases on the point may be found in an annotation in 40 A.L.R.2d 788, annotating Connell v. Bauer, 1953, 240 Minn. 280, 61 N.W.2d 177.*fn8

We think that the preferable view is the conclusion that as between the decedent's executor and the persons to whom the decedent made a gift, complete except for going through the process of having the bonds reissued, the right of the donees is clear. The transaction is equivalent to an express trust declared by the decedent even though trust terms were not used.

Does that relieve the estate of the decedent from an estate tax which includes the value of these bonds? The district judge points out that the regulation already cited "does not contain any intimation that the Treasury Department shall be considered as though it were one personality for borrowing money and a different one for collecting it by taxing." Of course that is true.Nevertheless, if the analysis above is correct, the decedent, prior to his death, was not equitably entitled to any of the proceeds of these bonds. Had he cashed the bonds, he and his representative after him would have been compelled to hold the proceeds in trust for the donees of his inter-vivos gift. In essence the decedent, prior to his death, had effectively conveyed his right of survivorship to the co-owners of the bonds. The Estate Tax attaches to the economic benefit to be derived from property rather than the technical ramifications of title.*fn9 The decedent had parted with his economic interest prior to his death, and in the words of the Internal Revenue Code of 1939, "the extent of the interest therein held" by the decedent was nothing. The taxing statute is not applicable.

The judgment of the district court will be reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

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