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Before Marriage

30 July, 2015 - 16:26

The Code treats a married husband and wife as a single taxpayer – although they may elect to be taxed separately. Until they are married, they remain separate taxpayers – although one might be a dependent of the other. Taxpayers may enter certain transactions with each other in contemplation of marriage., but presumptively such transactions are arm’s-length transactions.

Farid-es-Sultaneh v. Commissioner, 160 F.2d 812 (2d Cir. 1947)

CHASE, Circuit Judge.

The problem presented by this petition is to fix the cost basis to be used by the petitioner in determining the taxable gain on a sale she made in 1938 of shares of corporate stock. She contends that it is the adjusted value of the shares at the date she acquired them because her acquisition was by purchase. The Commissioner’s position is that she must use the adjusted cost basis of her transferor because her acquisition was by gift. The Tax Court agreed with the Commissioner and redetermined the deficiency accordingly.


The petitioner is an American citizen who filed her income tax return for the calendar year 1938 ... and ... reported sales during that year of 12,000 shares of the common stock of the S.S. Kresge Company at varying prices per share, for the total sum of $230,802.36 which admittedly was in excess of their cost to her. ...

In December 1923 when the petitioner, then unmarried, and S.S. Kresge, then married, were contemplating their future marriage, he delivered to her 700 shares of the common stock of the S.S. Kresge Company which then had a fair market value of $290 per share. The shares ... were to be held by the petitioner “for her benefit and protection in the event that the said Kresge should die prior to the contemplated marriage between the petitioner and said Kresge.” The latter was divorced from his wife on January 9, 1924, and on or about January 23, 1924 he delivered to the petitioner 1800 additional common shares of S.S. Kresge Company which were also ... to be held by the petitioner for the same purposes as were the first 700 shares he had delivered to her. On April 24, 1924, and when the petitioner still retained the possession of the stock so delivered to her, she and Mr. Kresge executed a written ante-nuptial agreement wherein she acknowledged the receipt of the shares “as a gift made by the said Sebastian S. Kresge, pursuant to this indenture, and as an ante-nuptial settlement, and in consideration of said gift and said ante-nuptial settlement, in consideration of the promise of said Sebastian S. Kresge to marry her, and in further consideration of the consummation of said promised marriage” she released all dower and other marital rights, including the right to her support to which she otherwise would have been entitled as a matter of law when she became his wife. They were married in New York immediately after the ante-nuptial agreement was executed and continued to be husband and wife until the petitioner obtained a final decree of absolute divorce from him on, or about, May 18, 1928. No alimony was claimed by, or awarded to, her.

The stock so obtained by the petitioner from Mr. Kresge had a fair market value of $315 per share on April 24, 1924, and of $330 per share on, or about May 6, 1924, when it was transferred to her on the books of the corporation. She held all of it for about three years, but how much she continued to hold thereafter is not disclosed except as that may be shown by her sales in 1938. Meanwhile her holdings had been increased by a stock dividend of 50%, declared on April 1, 1925; one of 10 to 1 declared on January 19, 1926; and one of 50%, declared on March 1, 1929. Her adjusted basis for the stock she sold in 1938 was $10.66⅔ per share computed on the basis of the fair market value of the shares which she obtained from Mr. Kresge at the time of her acquisition. His adjusted basis for the shares she sold in 1938 would have been $0.159091.

When the petitioner and Mr. Kresge were married he was 57 years old with a life expectancy of 16½ years. She was then 32 years of age with a life expectancy of 33¾ years. He was then worth approximately $375,000,000 and owned real estate of the approximate value of $100,000,000.

The Commissioner determined the deficiency on the ground that the petitioner’s stock obtained as above stated was acquired by gift within the meaning of that word as used in § [102] and, as the transfer to her was after December 31, 1920, used as the basis for determining the gain on her sale of it the basis it would have had in the hands of the donor. This was correct if the just mentioned statute is applicable, and the Tax Court held it was on the authority of Wemyss v. Commissioner, 324 U.S. 303, and Merrill v. Fahs, 324 U.S. 308.

The issue here presented cannot, however, be adequately dealt with quite so summarily. The Wemyss case determined the taxability to the transferor as a gift, under [the Federal Gift Tax] ... of property transferred in trust for the benefit of the prospective wife of the transferor pursuant to the terms of an ante-nuptial agreement. It was held that the transfer, being solely in consideration of her promise of marriage, and to compensate her for loss of trust income which would cease upon her marriage, was not for an adequate and full consideration in money or money’s worth ... [and] was not one at arm’s length made in the ordinary course of business. But we find nothing in this decision to show that a transfer, taxable as a gift under the gift tax, is ipso facto to be treated as a gift in construing the income tax law.

In Merrill v. Fahs, supra, it was pointed out that the estate and gift tax statutes are in pari materia and are to be so construed. Estate of Sanford v. Commissioner, 308 U.S. 39, 44. The estate tax provisions in the Revenue Act of 1916 required the inclusion in a decedent’s gross estate of transfers made in contemplation of death, or intended to take effect in possession and enjoyment at or after death except when a transfer was the result of “a bona fide sale for a fair consideration in money or money’s worth.” [citation omitted]. The first gift tax became effective in 1924, and provided inter alia, that where an exchange or sale of property was for less than a fair consideration in money or money’s worth the excess should be taxed as a gift. [citation omitted]. While both taxing statutes thus provided, it was held that a release of dower rights was a fair consideration in money or money’s worth. Ferguson v. Dickson, 3 Cir., 300 F. 961, cert. denied, 266 U.S. 628; McCaughn v. Carver, 3 Cir., 19 F.2d 126. Following that, Congress in 1926 replaced the words “fair consideration” in the 1924 Act limiting the deductibility of claims against an estate with the words “adequate and full consideration in money or money’s worth” and in 1932 the gift tax statute as enacted limited consideration in the same way. Rev. Act 1932, § 503. Although Congress in 1932 also expressly provided that the release of marital rights should not be treated as a consideration in money or money’s worth in administering the estate tax law, Rev. Act of 1932, § 804, 26 U.S.C.A. ..., and failed to include such a provision in the gift tax statute, it was held that the gift tax law should be construed to the same effect. Merrill v. Fahs, supra.

We find in this decision no indication, however, that the term “gift” as used in the income tax statute should be construed to include a transfer which, if made when the gift tax were effective, would be taxable to the transferor as a gift merely because of the special provisions in the gift tax statute defining and restricting consideration for gift tax purposes. A fortiori, it would seem that limitations found in the estate tax law upon according the usual legal effect to proof that a transfer was made for a fair consideration should not be imported into the income tax law except by action of Congress.

In our opinion the income tax provisions are not to be construed as though they were in pari materia with either the estate tax law or the gift tax statutes. They are aimed at the gathering of revenue by taking for public use given percentages of what the statute fixes as net taxable income. Capital gains and losses are, to the required or permitted extent, factors in determining net taxable income. What is known as the basis for computing gain or loss on transfers of property is established by statute in those instances when the resulting gain or loss is recognized for income tax purposes and the basis for succeeding sales or exchanges will, theoretically at least, level off tax-wise any hills and valleys in the consideration passing either way on previous sales or exchanges. When Congress provided that gifts should not be treated as taxable income to the donee there was, without any correlative provisions fixing the basis of the gift to the donee, a loophole which enabled the donee to make a subsequent transfer of the property and take as the basis for computing gain or loss its value when the gift was made. Thus it was possible to exclude from taxation any increment in value during the donor’s holding and the donee might take advantage of any shrinkage in such increment after the acquisition by gift in computing gain or loss upon a subsequent sale or exchange. It was to close this loophole that Congress provided that the donee should take the donor’s basis when property was transferred by gift. Report of Ways and Means Committee (No. 350, P. 9, 67th Cong., 1st Sess.). This change in the statute affected only the statutory net taxable income. The altered statute prevented a transfer by gift from creating any change in the basis of the property in computing gain or loss on any future transfer. In any individual instance the change in the statute would but postpone taxation and presumably would have little effect on the total volume of income tax revenue derived over a long period of time and from many taxpayers. Because of this we think that a transfer which should be classed as a gift under the gift tax law is not necessarily to be treated as a gift income-tax-wise. Though such a consideration as this petitioner gave for the shares of stock she acquired from Mr. Kresge might not have relieved him from liability for a gift tax, had the present gift tax then been in effect, it was nevertheless a fair consideration which prevented her taking the shares as a gift under the income tax law since it precluded the existence of a donative intent.

Although the transfers of the stock made both in December 1923, and in the following January by Mr. Kresge to this taxpayer are called a gift in the ante-nuptial agreement later executed and were to be for the protection of his prospective bride if he died before the marriage was consummated, the “gift” was contingent upon his death before such marriage, an event that did not occur. Consequently, it would appear that no absolute gift was made before the ante-nuptial contract was executed and that she took title to the stock under its terms, viz: in consideration for her promise to marry him coupled with her promise to relinquish all rights in and to his property which she would otherwise acquire by the marriage. Her inchoate interest in the property of her affianced husband greatly exceeded the value of the stock transferred to her. It was a fair consideration under ordinary legal concepts of that term for the transfers of the stock by him. Ferguson v. Dickson, supra; McCaughn v. Carver, supra. She performed the contract under the terms of which the stock was transferred to her and held the shares not as a donee but as a purchaser for a fair consideration.


Decision reversed.

CLARK, Circuit Judge (dissenting) (omitted).

Estate and Gift Tax

The estate and gift taxes are in pari materia with each other. Neither is in pari materia with the income tax. What does this mean?

Notes and questions:

1. Did the Commissioner lose out on taxing any transactions in 1923 and 1924? Which ones?

  • Remember: the use of property whose value has appreciated or depreciated to pay for something is a recognition event. Why?
  • What did the parties buy and sell in this case?

S.S. Kresge

Who was S.S. Kresge? What did he do to make stock in his corporation go up so much in value?

2. What did taxpayer give as consideration in this case? What did she pay for it? When was the money that she used to pay for it subject to income tax?

  • How is this contrary to the sale-of-blood cases – where the amount realized is taxed in full?

3. If there had been no ante-nuptial agreement, would the court’s holding have been the same?

  • What if the parties had married and then executed a post-nuptial agreement with the same terms as the ante-nuptial agreement?