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Singer v. Shaughnessy

decided: July 14, 1952.


Author: Chase

Before SWAN, CHASE and CLARK, Circuit Judges.

CHASE, Circuit Judge.

The plaintiff, as executrix of the estate of her husband, L.W. Singer, who died on August 21, 1944, filed an estate tax return and paid the tax computed thereon. Thereafter, she filed a timely claim for the refund of part of the tax so paid. Upon audit of the return a deficiency was determined which was paid by the executrix who also filed a timely claim for the refund of that. Both claims were denied and she brought this suit against the collector to recover what she had claimed as overpayments. A jury returned a special verdict and, from a judgment entered thereon for a part of the amount so claimed, both parties have appealed.

The appeal of the plaintiff puts in issue the value for estate tax purposes of the decedent's interest in a business conducted under the name of L.W. Singer & Co., and the proper part of the proceeds of two policies of insurance upon his life to be included in his gross estate.

The appeal of the defendant puts in issue the extent to which there is includible in the decedent's gross estate: property jointly held by him and his wife; a joint bank account; promissory notes made by her payable to him; and two joint and survivor annuity policies which the plaintiff claims were given to her by her husband shortly before he died.

When Mr. and Mrs. Singer were married in 1926 he was a salesman for a book publishing company and also owned a small publishing business in Syracuse, New York called the L.W. Singer Company. Mrs. Singer took an active part in conducting the business of the L.W. Singer Company while Mr. Singer continued his work for some years as a salesman for his employer and devoted what spare time he could to helping his wife run the Singer Company. Subsequently he gave up his other work and devoted all his time to the business. He and his wife were successful in that and continued to run the business together until he died. On May 31, 1944, they executed a formal agreement setting forth that Mr. Singer had owned and operated the business for twenty years and that for eighteen years Mrs. Singer had been associated with him as an employee during which time she had "become thoroughly acquainted with and versed in all phases of the business and now constitutes a valuable and important part thereof, although she has no financial interest therein," and that he had increasingly been relying upon her aid and advice particularly during the preceding two years.He, consequently, desired to create a partnership with her and to sell her an undivided one half interest in the business. According to this agreement, he did sell her such interest for $100,000 payable $28,000 in cash and $18,000 on June 1, 1945, $18,000 on June 1, 1946 and $6000 on June 1, in each succeeding year until the unpaid balance had been paid with interest at 3%. She paid him the $28,000 in cash and gave him notes for the remainder.

In the estate tax return she filed, she set up the decedent's interest in the business at one half and valued his share at $100,000. She also included his distributive share of undivided profits in the amount of $68,994.16. Certain stocks and bonds and miscellaneous property held in their joint names, the promissory notes she had made payable to him together with accrued interest, the proceeds of two life insurance policies which matured at his death and in each of which she was named as the beneficiary were also listed in the return as the decedent's property. She filed an income tax return for herself for 1944 in which she reported one half of the profits of the business from June 1, 1944 through August 21st and all of the profits of it for the remainder of that year. In an income tax return which she filed for Mr. Singer covering the period from January 1st through August 21st, she included the entire profits of the business up to June 1st and one half of them from that date through August 21st. She did not include in the estate tax return filed the value of two annuities. One of these was purchased in 1943 by Mr. and Mrs. Singer and it provided for joint monthly payments to them beginning April 17, 1943 and continuing during their lives and after&the death of one to the survivor for life; the other was purchased on June 19, 1944 providing for joint monthly payments beginning on that date and continuing as those did upon the first contract with like survivorship rights. In her income tax return for 1944 she included one half of the annuity payments made in 1944 from January 1, 1944 to August 21, 1944 and the remaining half in the income tax return filed for her husband.

In filing these returns she had acted in accordance with the statements in the agreement she made with her husband on June 1, 1944 to the effect that she then had, for the first time, acquired a financial interest in the L.W. Singer Company. But she changed her position and filed an amended estate tax return based on the contention that she had been an equal partner with her husband in the L.W. Singer Company from the time she took an active part in its affairs after her marriage to the date of his death. The adjustments she made on that basis reduced his distributive share of the partnership profits and, since the jointly owned real and personal property had been acquired with L.W. Singer Company funds, which also made up the bank account and which had been used to pay the premiums on the life insurance policies, the result was the inclusion for estate taxes of only one half of any of these items.

The denial of the claims for refunds and the determination of the deficiency resulted in part from the refusal to accept and give effect taxwise to the new position of Mrs. Singer as a partner in the business before June 1, 1944, or her contention that a valid gift of the annuity contracts had been made to her. The remainder of the deficiency was due to the increase in the value of decedent's interest in the business and the denial of Mrs. Singer's contentiov that her notes had been given her husband with no intention on the part of either that they would ever be paid and so were not obligations owed him when he died.

The disputed issues of fact were submitted to the jury after the defendant moved for a directed verdict, action on the motion being held in abeyance. In the special verdict taken, the jury gave the following answers to the following questions:

"1. Was there a partnership agreement to conduct the business of L.W. Singer existing between Frances A. Singer and her husband, Leland W. Singer, at or about the time they were married on July 24th, 1926, and did such partnershp remain effective throughout the period of the conduct of the business of the L.W. Singer company through the years 1926 to June 1st, 1944? Yes

"2. If you find there was no valid partnership agreement existing was there an agreement between Mr. and Mrs. Singer as to the sharing of profits between them from the business of the L.W. Singer Company? (Not answered.)

"3. If you find that either a valid partnership agreement or a valid profit sharing agreement existed between the parties, what were the percentage proportions of such profits that was agreed should be owned by Mrs. Singer? Fifty per cent.

"4. Were the stocks set forth in Exhibit 37A and the bonds set forth in Exhibit 37B, the real estate set forth in Exhibit 37C and the miscellaneous property set forth in Exhibit 37D, the annuity issued by the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company on April 6th of 1943, the insurance policy issued by the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company on December 1, of 1944, the insurance policy issued by the New England Mutual Life Insurance Company on November 1 of 1932, and the policy issued by the Equitable Life Insurance Company of Iowa on the 30th ...

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