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Byrum's control over the flow of trust income renders his estate scheme repugnant to $ 2036 (a)(2) as well as $ 2036 (a)(1).
To me it is thus clear that Byrum's shares were not truly, totally, “absolutely, unequivocally" alienated during his life. When it is apparent that, if tolerated, Byrum's scheme will open a gaping hole in the estate tax laws, on what basis does the majority nonetheless conclude that Byrum should have his enjoyment, his control, and his estate free from taxes?
II I can find nothing in the majority's three arguments purporting to deal with $ 2036 (a)(1), that might justify the conclusion that Byrum did not "enjoy” a benefit from the shares his estate now asserts are immune from taxation.
1. The majority says that in Reinecke v. Northern Trust Co., 278 U. S. 339 (1929), “the Court held that reserved powers of management of trust assets, similar to Byrum's power over the three corporations, did not subject an inter vivos trust to the federal estate tax." This reading of Northern Trust is not warranted by the one paragraph in that antique opinion on the point for which it is now cited, see 278 U. S., at 346–347, nor by the circumstances of that case. No one has ever suggested that Adolphus Bartlett, the settlor in Northern Trust, used or could have used the voting power of the shares he transferred to a trust to control or, indeed, exercise any significant influence in any company. A mere glance at the nature of these securities transferred by Bartlett (e. g., 1,000 shares of the Northern Trust Co., 784 shares of the Commonwealth Edison Co., 300 shares of the Illinois Central R.Co., 200 preferred shares of the Chicago & North Western R. Co., 300 common shares of the Chicago &
mind this is enjoyment of property put beyond taxation only on the pretext that it is not enjoyed.
Byrum's lifelong enjoyment of the voting power of the trust shares contravenes § 2036 (a)(2) as well as § 2036 (a)(1) because it afforded him control over which trust beneficiaries--the life tenants or the remaindermen—would receive the benefit of the income earned by these shares. He secured this power by making the trust to all intents and purposes exclusively dependent on shares it could not sell in corporations he controlled. Thus, by instructing the directors he elected in the controlled corporations that he thought dividends should or should not be declared Byrum was able to open or close the spigot through which income flowed to the trust's life tenants. When Byrum closed the spigot by deferring dividends of the controlled corporations, thereby perpetuating his own “enjoyment” of these funds, he also in effect transferred income from the life tenants to the remaindermen whose share values were swollen by the retained income. The extent to which such income transfers can be effected is suggested by the pay-out record of the corporations here in question, as reflected in the trust's accounts. Over the first five years of its existence on shares later valued by the Internal Revenue Service at $89,000, the trust received a total of only $339 in dividends. In the sixth year, Byrum died. The corporations raised their dividend rate from 10¢ a share to $2 per share and paid $1,498 into the trust. See "Income Cash Ledger,” App. 25–26.
1 The trust held $89,000 worth of stock in Byrum-controlled corporations and only one other asset: three Series E United States Savings Bonds worth a total of $300 at maturity. See "Yearly List of [Trust] Assets,” App. 27–29. Consequently, I do not accord much weight to the majority's point that Byrum could not prevent the trustee from making payments "from other trust assets.”
For the reasons set forth above, we hold that this case was correctly decided by the Court of Appeals and accordingly the judgment is
MR. JUSTICE WHITE, with whom MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN and MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN join, dissenting.
I think the majority is wrong in all substantial respects.
The tax code commands the payment of an estate tax on transfers effective in name and form during life if the now deceased settlor retained during his life either (1) “the possession or enjoyment of” the property transferred or (2) the right to designate the persons who would enjoy the transferred property or the income therefrom. 26 U. S. C. $$ 2036 (a)(1) and (2). Our cases explicate this congressional directive to mean that if one wishes to avoid a tax at death he must be selfabnegating enough to totally surrender his property interest during life.
“[A]n estate tax cannot be avoided by any trust transfer except by a bona fide transfer in which the settlor, absolutely, unequivocally, irrevocably, and without possible reservations, parts with all of his title and all of his possession and all of his enjoyment of the transferred property.” Commissioner v.
Estate of Church, 335 U. S. 632, 645 (1949). In this case the taxpayer's asserted alienation does not measure up to this high standard. Byrum enjoyed the continued privilege of voting the shares he "gave up” to the trust. By means of these shares he enjoyed majority control of two corporations. He used that control to retain salaried positions in both corporations. To my
merge, is not a present benefit; rather, it is a speculative and contingent benefit which may or may not be realized. Nor is the probability of continued employment and compensation the substantial “enjoyment of ... [the transferred] property” within the meaning of the statute. The dominant stockholder in a closely held corporation, if he is active and productive, is likely to hold a senior position and to enjoy the advantage of a significant voice in his own compensation. These are inevitable facts of the free-enterprise system, but the influence and capability of a controlling stockholder to favor himself are not without constraints. Where there are minority stockholders, as in this case, directors may be held accountable if their employment, compensation, and retention of officers violate their duty to act reasonably in the best interest of the corporation and all of its stockholders.35 Moreover, this duty is policed, albeit indirectly, by the Internal Revenue Service, which disallows the deduction of unreasonable compensation paid to a corporate executive as a business
We conclude that Byrum's retention of voting control was not the retention of the enjoyment of the transferred property within the meaning of the statute.
35 Directors of Ohio corporations have been held liable for payment of excessive compensation. Berkwitz v. Humphrey, 163 F. Supp. 78 (ND Ohio 1958).
36 26 U. S. C. § 162 (a)(1) permits corporations to deduct "reasonable” compensation as business expenses. If the Internal Revenue Service determines that compensation exceeds the bounds of reason, it will not permit a deduction. See, e. g., Botany Worsted Mills v. United States, 278 U. S. 282 (1929).
Moreover, there is nothing in the record of this case with respect to Byrum's compensation. There is no showing that his control of these corporations gave him an “enjoyment” with respect to compensation that he would not have had upon rendering similar services without owning any stock.
the trust. Indeed, at the time of his death he still owned a majority of the shares in the largest of the corporations and probably would have exercised control of the other two by virtue of being a large stockholder in each.33 The statutory language plainly contemplates retention of an attribute of the property transferred—such as a right to income, use of the property itself, or a power of appointment with respect either to income or principal.34
Even if Byrum had transferred a majority of the stock, but had retained voting control, he would not have retained "substantial present economic benefit,” 326 U. S., at 486. The Government points to the retention of two “benefits.” The first of these, the power to liquidate or
33 The Government, for the reasons discussed in n. 4, supra, makes no distinction between retention of control by virtue of owning 50% or more of the voting shares and such retention by a combination of stock owned and that with respect to which the right to vote was retained.
34 The interpretation given § 2036 (a) by the Government and by MR. JUSTICE WHITE's dissenting opinion would seriously disadvantage settlors in a control posture. If the settlor remained a controlling stockholder, any transfer of stock would be taxable to his estate. See n. 4, supra. The typical closely held corporation is small, has a checkered earning record, and has no market for its shares. Yet its shares often have substantial asset value. To prevent the crippling liquidity problem that would result from the imposition of estate taxes on such shares, the controlling shareholder's estate planning often includes an irrevocable trust. The Government and the dissenting opinion would deny to controlling shareholders the privilege of using this generally acceptable method of estate planning without adverse tax consequences. Yet a settlor whose wealth consisted of listed securities of corporations he did not control would be permitted the tax advantage of the irrevocable trust even though his more marketable assets present a far less serious liquidity problem. The language of the statute does not support such a result and we cannot believe Congress intended it to have such discriminatory and far-reaching impact.