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Gifts and Inheritances, § 102, and Related Basis Rules, §§ 1014, 1015

30 July, 2015 - 11:41

Read § 102. There has always been an exclusion for gifts and inheritances from the federal income tax in the Code. Perhaps Congress has always felt that it would be inappropriate to assess a tax on the generosity of relatives who give birthday and Christmas gifts – sometimes very expensive ones. But:

  • Is it possible that this may lead to a culture of gift-giving in contexts other than the family – whose effects may not reflect generosity or affection?
  • If so, is it possible that the costs of such gifts will escalate, and is it not certain that the donor will (at least try to) deduct the escalating costs of such gifts?

Commissioner v. Duberstein, 363 U.S. 278 (1960).

MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

These two cases concern the provision of the Internal Revenue Code which excludes from the gross income of an income taxpayer “the value of property acquired by gift.” [footnote omitted] ... The importance to decision of the facts of the cases requires that we state them in some detail.

No. 376, Commissioner v. Duberstein. The taxpayer, Duberstein, [footnote omitted] was president of the Duberstein Iron & Metal Company, a corporation with headquarters in Dayton, Ohio. For some years, the taxpayer’s company had done business with Mohawk Metal Corporation, whose headquarters were in New York City. The president of Mohawk was one Berman. The taxpayer and Berman had generally used the telephone to transact their companies’ business with each other, which consisted of buying and selling metals. The taxpayer testified, without elaboration, that he knew Berman “personally,” and had known him for about seven years. From time to time in their telephone conversations, Berman would ask Duberstein whether the latter knew of potential customers for some of Mohawk’s products in which Duberstein’s company itself was not interested. Duberstein provided the names of potential customers for these items.

One day in 1951, Berman telephoned Duberstein and said that the information Duberstein had given him had proved so helpful that he wanted to give the latter a present. Duberstein stated that Berman owed him nothing. Berman said that he had a Cadillac as a gift for Duberstein, and that the latter should send to New York for it; Berman insisted that Duberstein accept the car, and the latter finally did so, protesting, however, that he had not intended to be compensated for the information. At the time, Duberstein already had a Cadillac and an Oldsmobile, and felt that he did not need another car. Duberstein testified that he did not think Berman would have sent him the Cadillac if he had not furnished him with information about the customers. It appeared that Mohawk later deducted the value of the Cadillac as a business expense on its corporate income tax return.

Duberstein did not include the value of the Cadillac in gross income for 1951, deeming it a gift. The Commissioner asserted a deficiency for the car’s value against him ... [T]he Tax Court affirmed the Commissioner’s determination. It said that “The record is significantly barren of evidence revealing any intention on the part of the payor to make a gift. ... The only justifiable inference is that the automobile was intended by the payor to be remuneration for services rendered to it by Duberstein.” The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed.

No. 546, Stanton v. United States. The taxpayer, Stanton, had been for approximately 10 years in the employ of Trinity Church in New York City. He was comptroller of the Church corporation, and president of a corporation, Trinity Operating Company, the church set up as a fully owned subsidiary to manage its real estate holdings, which were more extensive than simply the church property. His salary by the end of his employment there in 1942 amounted to $22,500 a year. Effective November 30, 1942, he resigned from both positions to go into business for himself. The Operating Company’s directors, who seem to have included the rector and vestrymen of the church, passed the following resolution upon his resignation:

Be it resolved that, in appreciation of the services rendered by Mr. Stanton ..., a gratuity is hereby awarded to him of Twenty Thousand Dollars, payable to him in equal instalments of Two Thousand Dollars at the end of each and every month commencing with the month of December, 1942; provided that, with the discontinuance of his services, the Corporation of Trinity Church is released from all rights and claims to pension and retirement benefits not already accrued up to November 30, 1942.

The Operating Company’s action was later explained by one of its directors as based on the fact that

Mr. Stanton was liked by all of the Vestry personally. He had a pleasing personality. He had come in when Trinity’s affairs were in a difficult situation. He did a splendid piece of work, we felt. Besides that ... , he was liked by all of the members of the Vestry personally.

And by another:

We were all unanimous in wishing to make Mr. Stanton a gift. Mr. Stanton had loyally and faithfully served Trinity in a very difficult time. We thought of him in the highest regard. We understood that he was going in business for himself. We felt that he was entitled to that evidence of good will.

On the other hand, there was a suggestion of some ill feeling between Stanton and the directors, arising out of the recent termination of the services of one Watkins, the Operating Company’s treasurer, whose departure was evidently attended by some acrimony. At a special board meeting on October 28, 1942, Stanton had intervened on Watkins’ side and asked reconsideration of the matter. The minutes reflect that

resentment was expressed as to the ‘presumptuous’ suggestion that the action of the Board, taken after long deliberation, should be changed.

The Board adhered to its determination that Watkins be separated from employment ... The Board voted the payment of six months’ salary to Watkins in a resolution similar to that quoted in regard to Stanton, but which did not use the term “gratuity.” At the meeting, Stanton announced that, in order to avoid any ... embarrassment or question at any time as to his willingness to resign if the Board desired, he was tendering his resignation ..., which ... was [eventually] accepted.

... There was undisputed testimony that there were in fact no enforceable rights or claims to pension and retirement benefits which had not accrued at the time of the taxpayer’s resignation, and that the last proviso of the resolution was inserted simply out of an abundance of caution. The taxpayer received in cash a refund of his contributions to the retirement plans, and there is no suggestion that he was entitled to more. He was required to perform no further services for Trinity after his resignation.

The Commissioner asserted a deficiency against the taxpayer after the latter had failed to include the payments in question in gross income. After payment of the deficiency and administrative rejection of a refund claim, the taxpayer sued the United States for a refund in the District Court for the Eastern District of New York. The trial judge, sitting without a jury, made the simple finding that the payments were a “gift,” [footnote omitted] and judgment was entered for the taxpayer. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed.

The Government, urging that clarification of the problem typified by these two cases was necessary, and that the approaches taken by the Courts of Appeals for the Second and the Sixth Circuits were in conflict, petitioned for certiorari in No. 376, and acquiesced in the taxpayer’s petition in No. 546. On this basis, and because of the importance of the question in the administration of the income tax laws, we granted certiorari in both cases.

The exclusion of property acquired by gift from gross income under the federal income tax laws was made in the first income tax statute [footnote omitted] passed under the authority of the Sixteenth Amendment, and has been a feature of the income tax statutes ever since. The meaning of the term “gift” as applied to particular transfers has always been a matter of contention. [footnote omitted] Specific and illuminating legislative history on the point does not appear to exist. Analogies and inferences drawn from other revenue provisions, such as the estate and gift taxes, are dubious. [citation omitted]. The meaning of the statutory term has been shaped largely by the decisional law. With this, we turn to the contentions made by the Government in these cases.

First. The Government suggests that we promulgate a new “test” in this area to serve as a standard to be applied by the lower courts and by the Tax Court in dealing with the numerous cases that arise. [footnote omitted] We reject this invitation. We are of opinion that the governing principles are necessarily general, and have already been spelled out in the opinions of this Court, and that the problem is one which, under the present statutory framework, does not lend itself to any more definitive statement that would produce a talisman for the solution of concrete cases. The cases at bar are fair examples of the settings in which the problem usually arises. They present situations in which payments have been made in a context with business overtones – an employer making a payment to a retiring employee; a businessman giving something of value to another businessman who has been of advantage to him in his business. In this context, we review the law as established by the prior cases here.

The course of decision here makes it plain that the statute does not use the term “gift” in the common law sense, but in a more colloquial sense. This Court has indicated that a voluntarily executed transfer of his property by one to another, without any consideration or compensation therefor, though a common law gift, is not necessarily a “gift” within the meaning of the statute. For the Court has shown that the mere absence of a legal or moral obligation to make such a payment does not establish that it is a gift. Old Colony Trust Co. v. Commissioner, 279 U.S. 716, 730. And, importantly, if the payment proceeds primarily from “the constraining force of any moral or legal duty,” or from “the incentive of anticipated benefit” of an economic nature, Bogardus v. Commissioner, 302 U.S. 34, 41, it is not a gift. And, conversely, “[w]here the payment is in return for services rendered, it is irrelevant that the donor derives no economic benefit from it.” Robertson v. United States, 343 U.S. 711, 714. 1 A gift in the statutory sense, on the other hand, proceeds from a “detached and disinterested generosity,” Commissioner v. LoBue, 351 U.S. 243, 246; “out of affection, respect, admiration, charity or like impulses.” Robertson v. United States, supra, at 343 U.S. 714. And, in this regard, the most critical consideration, as the Court was agreed in the leading case here, is the transferor’s “intention.” Bogardus v. Commissioner, 302 U.S. 34, 43. “What controls is the intention with which payment, however voluntary, has been made.” Id. at 302 U.S. 45 (dissenting opinion). [footnote omitted]

The Government says that this “intention” of the transferor cannot mean what the cases on the common law concept of gift call “donative intent.” With that we are in agreement, for our decisions fully support this. Moreover, the Bogardus case itself makes it plain that the donor’s characterization of his action is not determinative – that there must be an objective inquiry as to whether what is called a gift amounts to it in reality. 302 U.S. at 40. It scarcely needs adding that the parties’ expectations or hopes as to the tax treatment of their conduct, in themselves, have nothing to do with the matter.

It is suggested that the Bogardus criterion would be more apt if rephrased in terms of “motive,” rather than “intention.” We must confess to some skepticism as to whether such a verbal mutation would be of any practical consequence. We take it that the proper criterion, established by decision here, is one that inquires what the basic reason for his conduct was in fact – the dominant reason that explains his action in making the transfer. Further than that we do not think it profitable to go.

Second. The Government’s proposed “test,” while apparently simple and precise in its formulation, depends frankly on a set of “principles” or “presumptions” derived from the decided cases, and concededly subject to various exceptions; and it involves various corollaries, which add to its detail. Were we to promulgate this test as a matter of law, and accept with it its various presuppositions and stated consequences, we would be passing far beyond the requirements of the cases before us, and would be painting on a large canvas with indeed a broad brush. The Government derives its test from such propositions as the following: that payments by an employer to an employee, even though voluntary, ought, by and large, to be taxable; that the concept of a gift is inconsistent with a payment’s being a deductible business expense; that a gift involves “personal” elements; that a business corporation cannot properly make a gift of its assets. The Government admits that there are exceptions and qualifications to these propositions. We think, to the extent they are correct, that these propositions are not principles of law, but rather maxims of experience that the tribunals which have tried the facts of cases in this area have enunciated in explaining their factual determinations. Some of them simply represent truisms: it doubtless is, statistically speaking, the exceptional payment by an employer to an employee that amounts to a gift. Others are overstatements of possible evidentiary inferences relevant to a factual determination on the totality of circumstances in the case: it is doubtless relevant to the over-all inference that the transferor treats a payment as a business deduction, or that the transferor is a corporate entity. But these inferences cannot be stated in absolute terms. Neither factor is a shibboleth. The taxing statute does not make nondeductibility by the transferor a condition on the “gift” exclusion; nor does it draw any distinction, in terms, between transfers by corporations and individuals, as to the availability of the “gift” exclusion to the transferee. The conclusion whether a transfer amounts to a “gift” is one that must be reached on consideration of all the factors.

Specifically, the trier of fact must be careful not to allow trial of the issue whether the receipt of a specific payment is a gift to turn into a trial of the tax liability, or of the propriety, as a matter of fiduciary or corporate law, attaching to the conduct of someone else. The major corollary to the Government’s suggested “test” is that, as an ordinary matter, a payment by a corporation cannot be a gift, and, more specifically, there can be no such thing as a “gift” made by a corporation which would allow it to take a deduction for an ordinary and necessary business expense. As we have said, we find no basis for such a conclusion in the statute; and if it were applied as a determinative rule of “law,” it would force the tribunals trying tax cases involving the donee’s liability into elaborate inquiries into the local law of corporations or into the peripheral deductibility of payments as business expenses. The former issue might make the tax tribunals the most frequent investigators of an important and difficult issue of the laws of the several States, and the latter inquiry would summon one difficult and delicate problem of federal tax law as an aid to the solution of another. [footnote omitted] Or perhaps there would be required a trial of the vexed issue whether there was a “constructive” distribution of corporate property, for income tax purposes, to the corporate agents who had sponsored the transfer. [footnote omitted] These considerations, also, reinforce us in our conclusion that, while the principles urged by the Government may, in nonabsolute form as crystallizations of experience, prove persuasive to the trier of facts in a particular case, neither they nor any more detailed statement than has been made can be laid down as a matter of law.

Third. Decision of the issue presented in these cases must be based ultimately on the application of the factfinding tribunal’s experience with the mainsprings of human conduct to the totality of the facts of each case. The nontechnical nature of the statutory standard, the close relationship of it to the date of practical human experience, and the multiplicity of relevant factual elements, with their various combinations, creating the necessity of ascribing the proper force to each, confirm us in our conclusion that primary weight in this area must be given to the conclusions of the trier of fact. Baker v. Texas & Pacific R. Co., 359 U.S. 227; Commissioner v. Heininger, 320 U.S. 467, 475; United States v. Yellow Cab Co., 338 U.S. 338, 341; Bogardus v. Commissioner, supra, at 302 U.S. at 45 (dissenting opinion). [footnote omitted]

This conclusion may not satisfy an academic desire for tidiness, symmetry, and precision in this area, any more than a system based on the determinations of various factfinders ordinarily does. But we see it as implicit in the present statutory treatment of the exclusion for gifts, and in the variety of forums in which federal income tax cases can be tried. If there is fear of undue uncertainty or overmuch litigation, Congress may make more precise its treatment of the matter by singling out certain factors and making them determinative of the matters, as it has done in one field of the “gift” exclusion’s former application, that of prizes and awards. [footnote omitted] Doubtless diversity of result will tend to be lessened somewhat, since federal income tax decisions, even those in tribunals of first instance turning on issues of fact, tend to be reported, and since there may be a natural tendency of professional triers of fact to follow one another’s determinations, even as to factual matters. But the question here remains basically one of fact, for determination on a case-by-case basis.

One consequence of this is that appellate review of determinations in this field must be quite restricted. Where a jury has tried the matter upon correct instructions, the only inquiry is whether it cannot be said that reasonable men could reach differing conclusions on the issue. [citation omitted]. Where the trial has been by a judge without a jury, the judge’s findings must stand unless “clearly erroneous.” Fed. Rules Civ. Proc. 52(a). ... The rule itself applies also to factual inferences from undisputed basic facts citation omitted], as will on many occasions be presented in this area. [citation omitted]. And Congress has, in the most explicit terms, attached the identical weight to the findings of the Tax Court. I.R.C. § 7482(a). [footnote omitted]

Fourth. A majority of the Court is in accord with the principles just outlined. And, applying them to the Duberstein case, we are in agreement, on the evidence we have set forth, that it cannot be said that the conclusion of the Tax Court was “clearly erroneous.” It seems to us plain that, as trier of the facts, it was warranted in concluding that, despite the characterization of the transfer of the Cadillac by the parties, and the absence of any obligation, even of a moral nature, to make it, it was, at bottom, a recompense for Duberstein’s past services, or an inducement for him to be of further service in the future. We cannot say with the Court of Appeals that such a conclusion was “mere suspicion” on the Tax Court’s part. To us, it appears based in the sort of informed experience with human affairs that factfinding tribunals should bring to this task.

As to Stanton, we are in disagreement. To four of us, it is critical here that the District Court as trier of fact made only the simple and unelaborated finding that the transfer in question was a “gift.” [footnote omitted] To be sure, conciseness is to be strived for, and prolixity avoided, in findings; but, to the four of us, there comes a point where findings become so sparse and conclusory as to give no revelation of what the District Court’s concept of the determining facts and legal standard may be. [citation omitted]. Such conclusory, general findings do not constitute compliance with Rule 52's direction to “find the facts specially and state separately ... conclusions of law thereon.” While the standard of law in this area is not a complex one, we four think the unelaborated finding of ultimate fact here cannot stand as a fulfillment of these requirements. It affords the reviewing court not the semblance of an indication of the legal standard with which the trier of fact has approached his task. For all that appears, the District Court may have viewed the form of the resolution or the simple absence of legal consideration as conclusive. While the judgment of the Court of Appeals cannot stand, the four of us think there must be further proceedings in the District Court looking toward new and adequate findings of fact. In this, we are joined by MR. JUSTICE WHITTAKER, who agrees that the findings were inadequate, although he does not concur generally in this opinion.

Accordingly, in No. 376, the judgment of this Court is that the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and in No. 546, that the judgment of the Court of Appeals is vacated, and the case is remanded to the District Court for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.

MR. JUSTICE HARLAN concurs in the result in No. 376. In No. 546, he would affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the reasons stated by MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER.

MR. JUSTICE WHITTAKER, ... concurs only in the result of this opinion.

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS dissents, since he is of the view that, in each of these two cases, there was a gift ...

MR. JUSTICE BLACK, concurring and dissenting.

I agree with the Court that it was not clearly erroneous for the Tax Court to find as it did in No. 376 that the automobile transfer to Duberstein was not a gift, and so I agree with the Court’s opinion and judgment reversing the judgment of the Court of Appeals in that case.

I dissent in No. 546, Stanton v. United States. ... [T]he Court of Appeals was ... wrong in reversing the District Court’s judgment.

MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER, concurring in the judgment in No. 376 and dissenting in No. 546.


... While I agree that experience has shown the futility of attempting to define, by language so circumscribing as to make it easily applicable, what constitutes a gift for every situation where the problem may arise, I do think that greater explicitness is possible in isolating and emphasizing factors which militate against a gift in particular situations.

... While we should normally suppose that a payment from father to son was a gift unless the contrary is shown, in the two situations now before us, the business implications are so forceful that I would apply a presumptive rule placing the burden upon the beneficiary to prove the payment wholly unrelated to his services to the enterprise. The Court, however, has declined so to analyze the problem, and has concluded

that the governing principles are necessarily general, and [...] that the problem is one which, under the present statutory framework, does not lend itself to any more definitive statement that would produce a talisman for the solution of concrete cases.


... What the Court now does sets factfinding bodies to sail on an illimitable ocean of individual beliefs and experiences. This can hardly fail to invite, if indeed not encourage, too individualized diversities in the administration of the income tax law. I am afraid that, by these new phrasings, the practicalities of tax administration, which should be as uniform as is possible in so vast a country as ours, will be embarrassed. ... I agree with the Court in reversing the judgment in Commissioner v. Duberstein.

But I would affirm the decision of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Stanton v. United States. ... The business nature of the payment is confirmed by the words of the resolution, explaining the “gratuity” as

in appreciation of the services rendered by Mr. Stanton as Manager of the Estate and Comptroller of the Corporation of Trinity Church throughout nearly ten years, and as President of Trinity Operating Company, Inc.

Notes and Questions:

1. On remand of the Stanton case, the federal district court reexamined the evidence and determined that the Vestry was motivated by gratitude to a friend, good will, esteem, and kindliness. Hence the payment was a gift. Stanton v. U.S., 186 F. Supp. 393, 396-97 (E.D.N.Y. 1963). The court of appeals affirmed because the determination of the federal district court was not clearly erroneous. U.S. v. Stanton, 287 F.2d 876, 877 (2nd Cir. 1961).

2. The Supreme Court stated:

A gift in the statutory sense ... proceeds from a “detached and disinterested generosity” [citation omitted], “out of affection, respect, admiration, charity or like impulses.” [citation omitted]. And in this regard, the most critical consideration ... is the transferor’s “intention.” [citation omitted].

Do people give gifts because they are detached and disinterested – or very attached and intensely interested?

3. The donee is the one who will invoke § 102. How is the donee to prove the donor’s intent? Consider:

  • Taxpayer first joined a bakery workers’ union in 1922 and gradually rose through the ranks. In 1947, he was elected international vice president. He was an effective leader and was instrumental in the merger of several locals into one large local. Other officials of the local decided to give him and his wife a testimonial dinner at which the local would present him with sufficient funds to purchase a home. Taxpayer had nothing to do with the planning of the dinner and objected to it. The local raised money by selling insertions in a special souvenir journal. More than 1300 persons attended the dinner. There were six groups who contributed journal insertions:
    • Employers of bakery workers who wanted to stay on good terms with the local made deductible payments from their business accounts. Many employers had known taxpayer for many years and were on good terms with him. Most of this group’s journal insertions included a greeting such as “congratulations” and “best wishes.”
    • Employer trade associations made payments from assessments on employers, who in turn deducted payments that they made from their business accounts.
    • Businesses who sold supplies to the baking industry and treated payments for journal insertions as deductible advertising expenses.
    • Other union locals who made payments from funds accumulated from dues that they collected from members.
    • Lawyers and doctors who knew taxpayer personally and were in some manner associated with union activity in the baking industry. Some of these persons deducted their expenditure.
    • Employees and other individuals, many of whom purchased dinner tickets but only a few of whom purchased journal insertions. Many in this group felt friendship, admiration, affection, and respect for taxpayer.

Taxpayers (husband and wife) received nearly $61,000 from these contributions in 1956 and claimed on their income tax return that the amount was excludable as a gift.

  • What issues do these facts raise after Duberstein? Doesn’t the opinion of Duberstein seem to invite such issues?
  • If you represented taxpayer or the IRS, how would you undertake to address them? SeeKralstein v. Commissioner, 38 T.C. 810 (1962), acq. 1963-2 C.B. 3 (1963).

4. Does Justice Frankfurter have a point when he said:

What the Court now does sets fact-finding bodies to sail on an illimitable ocean of individual beliefs and experiences. This can hardly fail to invite, if indeed not encourage, too individualized diversities in the administration of the income tax law.

The Court combined two cases. How many possible outcomes for the two taxpayers were there? How many of them were espoused by at least one judge?

  • No justice voted for Duberstein to win and Stanton to lose.
  • Isn’t the disparity of views pretty good evidence that Justice Frankfurter was absolutely right?

5. There probably was a business culture that developed until the 1950s of giving very substantial business gifts in settings such as these. When the marginal tax bracket of the donor is very high, e.g., 70% and maybe higher, the cost of making a very substantial gift is actually quite low if its donor may deduct its cost. Is it possible that Berman felt that if his gift was not sufficiently generous, Duberstein might pitch some of that business to others?

6. Subsequent to Duberstein, Congress added § 102(c)(1) and § 274(b)(1) to the Code. Read these sections.

  • Would § 102(c)(1) change the result of either Duberstein or Stanton?
  • Would § 274(b)(1) change the result of either Duberstein or Stanton?

7. Notice: §§ 261 to 280H do not themselves establish deduction rules, but rather limit deductions that other Code sections might provide when the expenditure is for certain items or purposes.

  • In the case of gifts, § 274(b) limits the deductibility of a gift(s) given to one individual to a total of $25 if its cost is deducted under § 162 (trade or business expenses) or § 212 (expenses of producing or collecting profit or managing property held to produce income).
  • In Duberstein, § 274(b) would have limited Mohawk Corporation’s § 162 deduction to $25. If Mohawk had nevertheless purchased a Cadillac for Duberstein, Mohawk would have paid income tax on the cost of the gift (less $25). In essence, Mohawk would have been a surrogate taxpayer for Duberstein’s accession to wealth.
    • Do you think that this cuts back on the number of Cadillacs given as business gifts?
    • No matter what the merits of particular gifts, isn’t litigation of business gift issues likely to be much less frequent because of § 274(b)(1)?
    • Is congressional reaction to Duberstein better than the position that the Commissioner argued for in the case? Of course, the congressional solution was not one that the Commissioner would be in a position to advocate.
    • The congressional solution leaves the remainder of the Duberstein analysis intact.

8. Section 102's exclusion also extends to bequests. Section 102(b)(2) provides that income from gifted property is not excluded from a taxpayer’s gross income. In Irwin v. Gavit, 268 U.S. 161 (1925), the Supreme Court held that the gift exclusion extended to the gift of the corpus of a trust, but not to the income from it. Id. at 167. An income beneficiary for life must pay income tax on that income; the remainderman does not pay income tax on the property.

  • Notice that the value of a remainderman’s interest is less than the fmv of the property itself because s/he will not acquire it until the income beneficiary dies.
  • If the donor had simply given the corpus outright without subjecting it to a life estate, the value of the exclusion would have been more. Where did this loss in value disappear to? Shouldn’t someone benefit from it?
  • Might these points ever be important in matters of estate planning? How so?

9. Taxpayer was an attorney who entered into a contract with a client whereby he agreed to provide whatever legal services she should require for the remainder of her life without billing her. The client agreed to bequeath to taxpayer certain stock. Eventually the client died, and taxpayer received the stock. Taxpayer argued that the fmv of the stock should be excluded from his gross income under § 102(a).

  • Do you agree? SeeWolder v. Commissioner, 493 F.2d 608 (2nd Cir.), cert. denied, 419 U.S. 828 (1974).

10. Read §§ 74 and 274(j) carefully.


Do the CALI Lesson, Basic Income Taxation: Gross Income: Gifts, Bequests, Prizes, and Donative Cancellations of Indebtedness.

11. Recall from chapter 1: The Essence of Basis: Adjusted basis represents money that will not again be subject to income tax, usually because it is what remains after taxpayer already paid income tax on a greater sum of money. More pithily: basis is “money that has already been taxed” (and so can’t be taxed again).

  • Section 1015 states a special rule governing a donee’s basis in property that s/he acquired by gift. Read the first sentence of § 1015(a). What rule(s) does it state?

12. Consider this hypothetical posed by the Supreme Court in Taft v. Bowers, 278 U.S. 470 (1929), where the Court held that the Code’s adjusted basis rules applicable to gifts are constitutional:

In 1916, A purchased 100 shares of stock for $1000, which he held until 1923, when their fair market value had become $2000. He then gave them to B, who sold them during the year 1923 for $5000.
  • (i) On how much gain must B pay income tax in 1923? See § 1015(a).
  • (ii) Suppose that A had purchased the shares for $5000 and gave them to B when their fmv was $2000. B sold the shares in 1923 for $1000. How much loss may B claim on her income tax return for 1923?
  • (iii) Suppose that A had purchased the shares for $2000 and gave them to B when their fmv was $1000. B sold the shares in 1923 for $1500. How much gain or loss must B claim on her income tax return?
  • (iv) Suppose that A had purchased the shares for $2000 and gave them to B when their fmv was $1000. B sold them for $5000. On how much gain must B pay income tax in 1923?
  • (v) Suppose that A had purchased the shares for $2000 and gave them to B when their fmv was $3000. B sold them for $1000. How much loss may B claim on her income tax return?

13. The federal estate and gift taxes are in pari materia with each other. The federal income tax is notin pari materia with the federal estate and gift taxes.

  • What does this mean?

14. Now consider the effect of § 1015(d)(1 and 6). Assume that the gift tax on any gift is 20% of the fmv of the gift. Assume also that the gift was made in 2013. How does this change your answers to the first question immediately above?

Mixing taxes to increase basis

When we say that “basis is money that has already been taxed (and so can’t be taxed again),” we are referring to the federal income tax. The federal estate and gift taxes are not in pari materia with the federal income tax. Hence, payment of federal estate or gift tax does not affect liability for federal income tax, and vice versa. It follows that payment of federal estate or gift taxes should not affect a taxpayer’s income tax basis in his/her property. However, § 1015(d) makes an exception to this (quite logical) rule. Read § 1015(d)(1 and 6). What rule(s) does this provision state?

15. Now imagine: Taxpayer wanted to give $800 as a gift to his son. Assume that the gift is subject to federal gift tax. Assume that the gift tax is 20% of the fmv of the gift. Instead of giving the son $800 and paying $160 in federal gift tax, taxpayer gave his son property with a fmv of $1000 on the condition that son pay the $200 gift tax. Must father recognize gross income? Read on.

Diedrich v. Commissioner, 457 U.S. 191 (1982).

CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari to resolve a Circuit conflict as to whether a donor who makes a gift of property on condition that the donee pay the resulting gift tax receives taxable income to the extent that the gift tax paid by the donee exceeds the donor’s adjusted basis in the property transferred. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit held that the donor realized income. We affirm.



Diedrich v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue

In 1972, petitioners Victor and Frances Diedrich made gifts of approximately 85,000 shares of stock to their three children ... The gifts were subject to a condition that the donees pay the resulting federal and state gift taxes. ... The donors’ basis in the transferred stock was $51,073; the gift tax paid in 1972 by the donees was $62,992. Petitioners did not include as income on their 1972 federal income tax returns any portion of the gift tax paid by the donees. After an audit, the Commissioner of Internal Revenue determined that petitioners had realized income to the extent that the gift tax owed by petitioners, but paid by the donees, exceeded the donors’ basis in the property. Accordingly, petitioners’ taxable income for 1972 was increased by $5,959. 2 Petitioners filed a petition in the United States Tax Court for redetermination of the deficiencies. The Tax Court held for the taxpayers, concluding that no income had been realized.




The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ... reversed, concluding that, “to the extent the gift taxes paid by donees” exceeded the donors’ adjusted bases in the property transferred, “the donors realized taxable income.” The Court of Appeals rejected the Tax Court’s conclusion that the taxpayers merely had made a “net gift” of the difference between the fair market value of the transferred property and the gift taxes paid by the donees. The court reasoned that a donor receives a benefit when a donee discharges a donor’s legal obligation to pay gift taxes. The Court of Appeals agreed with the Commissioner in rejecting the holding in Turner v. Commissioner, 49 T.C. 356 (1968), aff’d per curiam, 410 F.2d 752 (CA6 1969), and its progeny, and adopted the approach of Johnson v. Commissioner, 59 T.C. 791 (1973), aff’d, 495 F.2d 1079 (CA6), cert. denied, 419 U.S. 1040 (1974), and Estate of Levine v. Commissioner, 72 T.C. 780 (1979), aff’d, 634 F.2d 12 (CA2 1980). We granted certiorari to resolve this conflict, and we affirm.



... This Court has recognized that “income” may be realized by a variety of indirect means. In Old Colony Trust Co. v. Commissioner, 279 U.S. 716 (1929), the Court held that payment of an employee’s income taxes by an employer constituted income to the employee. Speaking for the Court, Chief Justice Taft concluded that “[t]he payment of the tax by the employe[r] was in consideration of the services rendered by the employee, and was a gain derived by the employee from his labor.” Id., at 729. The Court made clear that the substance, not the form, of the agreed transaction controls. “The discharge by a third person of an obligation to him is equivalent to receipt by the person taxed.” Ibid. The employee, in other words, was placed in a better position as a result of the employer’s discharge of the employee’s legal obligation to pay the income taxes; the employee thus received a gain subject to income tax.

The holding in Old Colony was reaffirmed in Crane v. Commissioner, 331 U.S. 1 (1947). In Crane, the Court concluded that relief from the obligation of a nonrecourse mortgage in which the value of the property exceeded the value of the mortgage constituted income to the taxpayer. The taxpayer in Crane acquired depreciable property, an apartment building, subject to an unassumed mortgage. The taxpayer later sold the apartment building, which was still subject to the nonrecourse mortgage, for cash plus the buyer’s assumption of the mortgage. This Court held that the amount of the mortgage was properly included in the amount realized on the sale, noting that, if the taxpayer transfers subject to the mortgage,

the benefit to him is as real and substantial as if the mortgage were discharged, or as if a personal debt in an equal amount had been assumed by another.
Id. at 331 U.S. 14. [footnote omitted]

Again, it was the “reality,” not the form, of the transaction that governed. Ibid. The Court found it immaterial whether the seller received money prior to the sale in order to discharge the mortgage, or whether the seller merely transferred the property subject to the mortgage. In either case the taxpayer realized an economic benefit.


The principles of Old Colony and Crane control. 3 A common method of structuring gift transactions is for the donor to make the gift subject to the condition that the donee pay the resulting gift tax, as was done in ... the case[] now before us. When a gift is made, the gift tax liability falls on the donor under 26 U.S.C. § 2502(d). 4 When a donor makes a gift to a donee, a “debt” to the United States for the amount of the gift tax is incurred by the donor. Those taxes are as much the legal obligation of the donor as the donor’s income taxes; for these purposes, they are the same kind of debt obligation as the income taxes of the employee in Old Colony, supra. Similarly, when a donee agrees to discharge an indebtedness in consideration of the gift, the person relieved of the tax liability realizes an economic benefit. In short, the donor realizes an immediate economic benefit by the donee’s assumption of the donor’s legal obligation to pay the gift tax.

An examination of the donor’s intent does not change the character of this benefit. Although intent is relevant in determining whether a gift has been made, subjective intent has not characteristically been a factor in determining whether an individual has realized income. [footnote omitted] Even if intent were a factor, the donor’s intent with respect to the condition shifting the gift tax obligation from the donor to the donee was plainly to relieve the donor of a debt owed to the United States; the choice was made because the donor would receive a benefit in relief from the obligation to pay the gift tax. 5

Finally, the benefit realized by the taxpayer is not diminished by the fact that the liability attaches during the course of a donative transfer. It cannot be doubted that the donors were aware that the gift tax obligation would arise immediately upon the transfer of the property; the economic benefit to the donors in the discharge of the gift tax liability is indistinguishable from the benefit arising from discharge of a preexisting obligation. Nor is there any doubt that, had the donors sold a portion of the stock immediately before the gift transfer in order to raise funds to pay the expected gift tax, a taxable gain would have been realized. 26 U.S.C. § 1001. The fact that the gift tax obligation was discharged by way of a conditional gift, rather than from funds derived from a pre-gift sale, does not alter the underlying benefit to the donors.


Consistent with the economic reality, the Commissioner has treated these conditional gifts as a discharge of indebtedness through a part gift and part sale of the gift property transferred. The transfer is treated as if the donor sells the property to the donee for less than the fair market value. The “sale” price is the amount necessary to discharge the gift tax indebtedness; the balance of the value of the transferred property is treated as a gift. The gain thus derived by the donor is the amount of the gift tax liability less the donor’s adjusted basis in the entire property. Accordingly, income is realized to the extent that the gift tax exceeds the donor’s adjusted basis in the property. This treatment is consistent with § 1001 of the Internal Revenue Code, which provides that the gain from the disposition of property is the excess of the amount realized over the transferor’s adjusted basis in the property. [footnote omitted]


We recognize that Congress has structured gift transactions to encourage transfer of property by limiting the tax consequences of a transfer. See, e.g., 26 U.S.C. § 102 (gifts excluded from donee’s gross income). Congress may obviously provide a similar exclusion for the conditional gift. Should Congress wish to encourage “net gifts,” changes in the income tax consequences of such gifts lie within the legislative responsibility. Until such time, we are bound by Congress’ mandate that gross income includes income “from whatever source derived.” We therefore hold that a donor who makes a gift of property on condition that the donee pay the resulting gift taxes realizes taxable income to the extent that the gift taxes paid by the donee exceed the donor’s adjusted basis in the property. [footnote omitted]

The judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit is



... The Court in this case ... begs the question of whether a taxable transaction has taken place at all when it concludes that “[t]he principles of Old Colony and Crane control” this case.

In Old Colony, the employer agreed to pay the employee’s federal tax liability as part of his compensation. The employee provided his services to the employer in exchange for compensation. The exchange of compensation for services was undeniably a taxable transaction. The only question was whether the employee’s taxable income included the employer’s assumption of the employee’s income tax liability.

In Crane, the taxpayer sold real property for cash plus the buyer’s assumption of a mortgage. Clearly a sale had occurred, and the only question was whether the amount of the mortgage assumed by the buyer should be included in the amount realized by the taxpayer. The Court rejected the taxpayer’s contention that what she sold was not the property itself, but her equity in that property.

Unlike Old Colony or Crane, the question in this case is not the amount of income the taxpayer has realized as a result of a concededly taxable transaction, but whether a taxable transaction has taken place at all. Only after one concludes that a partial sale occurs when the donee agrees to pay the gift tax do Old Colony and Crane become relevant in ascertaining the amount of income realized by the donor as a result of the transaction. Nowhere does the Court explain why a gift becomes a partial sale merely because the donor and donee structure the gift so that the gift tax imposed by Congress on the transaction is paid by the donee, rather than the donor.

In my view, the resolution of this case turns upon congressional intent: whether Congress intended to characterize a gift as a partial sale whenever the donee agrees to pay the gift tax. Congress has determined that a gift should not be considered income to the donee. 26 U.S.C. § 102. Instead, gift transactions are to be subject to a tax system wholly separate and distinct from the income tax. See 26 U.S.C. § 2501 et seq. Both the donor and the donee may be held liable for the gift tax. §§ 2502(d), 6324(b). Although the primary liability for the gift tax is on the donor, the donee is liable to the extent of the value of the gift should the donor fail to pay the tax. I see no evidence in the tax statutes that Congress forbade the parties to agree among themselves as to who would pay the gift tax upon pain of such an agreement being considered a taxable event for the purposes of the income tax. Although Congress could certainly determine that the payment of the gift tax by the donee constitutes income to the donor, the relevant statutes do not affirmatively indicate that Congress has made such a determination.

I dissent.

Notes and Questions:

1. Assuming that the outcome advocated by Justice Rehnquist is what the parties wanted, is there a way for the parties in Diedrich to structure the gift so as to achieve that result?

2. Return to the hypothetical in the note immediately preceding Diedrich. Read the second paragraph of the Court’s second footnote. In the hypothetical, how much gift tax should the son have to pay?

  • Rev. Rul. 75-72 gives the following formula:(tentative tax)/(1 + λ) = (true tax)
    • ”tentative tax” is the tax as computed on the fmv of the gifted property; λ is the tax rate; “true tax” is the actual gift tax that the donee must (actually) pay.
  • Notice: In our example, application of the formula yields a “true tax” of $166.67. The net value of the gift would therefore be $833.33. 20% of $833.33 is $166.67.
    • The use of a net gift enables the donor/donee, between them, to pay less gift tax. This enlarges the net gift.
    • To what extent does the holding in Diedrich upset this planning?

3. There are times when we want to bifurcate the tax treatment of a transaction. In other words, we want to treat it as partly one thing and partly another. In part IIC of the opinion, the Court characterized the transaction as partly a gift and partly a sale. The logical way to treat a transaction that is partly one thing and partly another is to pro-rate it. A certain portion of the transaction is one thing and the remaining portion is another.

Remember that the taxpayer computes gains derived from dealings in property, § 61(a)(3), by subtracting “adjusted basis” from “amount realized,” § 1001(a).

If a transaction is partly a gift and partly a sale, how should we (logically) determine what portion of the transaction is gift and what portion is sale?

  • Our taxpayer is disposing of the property.
  • How should we logically determine the “amount realized” and the “adjusted basis” on the sale portion of the transaction?
  • How should we logically determine the “amount realized” and the “adjusted basis” on the gift portion of the transaction?

Typically, we know some information and have to compute what we don’t know. In a part gift/part sale, we often know the total fmv of the property, the amount realized from the sale portion of the transaction, and the taxpayer’s basis in all of the property.

  • Logically, the sale portion of the transaction should be (amount realized)/(fmv of the property). That same fraction should be multiplied by taxpayer’s total basis in the property.
  • The balance of the “adjusted basis” and the balance of the “amount realized” determine the gain on the non-sale portion of the transaction.

Taxpayers may transfer property to a charity through a part-gift/part-sale.

How would this analysis apply to the following facts:

  • Taxpayer’s adjusted basis in Blackacre is $10. The fmv of Blackacre is now $100. Taxpayer sells Blackacre to State University for $20. Taxpayer may deduct the value of gifts to State University.
  • On how much gain should taxpayer pay income tax?

4. Read Reg. § 1.1001-1(e)(1). This is the rule that the IRS applied in Diedrich. Does the logic of part IIC of the opinion support this rule? If not, why didn’t the taxpayer(s) point this out?

5. Read Reg. § 1.1015-4(a and b). Describe the calculation of the Diedrich children’s (i.e., the donees’) basis in the stock that they received. Consider: did the Diedrich children pay their parents anything for the property, or did they give a gift to their parents, and if so, what was it?

6. Read Reg. § 1.1015-4(a and b) Examples 1, 2, 3, and 4.

  • Now throw in some gift tax. What should be the basis of A’s son in the property if gift tax of the following amounts is paid?
    • $12,000 in Example 1.
    • $18,000 in Example 2.
    • $18,000 in Example 3.
    • $6000 in Example 4.

7. What should be the basis rules when property is acquired from a decedent? Read § 1014.


8. Do the CALI Lesson, Basic Federal Income Taxation: Property Transactions: Computation of Gain and Loss Realized. Some of the questions present new issues, but you can reason through them.