Helvering v. Clifford, No. 383

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtDOUGLAS
Citation60 S.Ct. 554,84 L.Ed. 788,309 U.S. 331
PartiesHELVERING, Com'r of Internal Revenue, v. CLIFFORD
Decision Date26 February 1940
Docket NumberNo. 383

309 U.S. 331
60 S.Ct. 554
84 L.Ed. 788
HELVERING, Com'r of Internal Revenue,

v.

CLIFFORD.

No. 383.
Argued Feb. 5, 1940.
Decided Feb. 26, 1940.

Page 332

Robert H. Jackson, Atty. Gen., and Warner W. Gardner, of Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Mr. Thomas P. Helmey, of Minneapolis, Minn., for respondent.

Mr. Justice DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

In 1934 respondent declared himself trustee of certain securities which he owned. All net income from the trust was to be held for the 'exclusive benefit' of respondent's wife. The trust was for a term of five years, except that it would terminate earlier on the death of either respondent or his wife. On termination of the trust the entire corpus was to go to respondent, while all 'accrued or undistributed net income' and 'any proceeds from the investment of such net income' was to be treated as property owned absolutely by the wife. During the continuance of the trust respondent was to pay over to his wife the whole or such part of the net income as he in his 'absolute discretion' might determine. And during that period he had full power (a) to exercise all voting powers incident to the trusteed shares of stock; (b) to 'sell, exchange, mortgage, or pledge' any of the securities under the declaration of trust 'whether as part of the corpus or principal thereof or as investments or proceeds and any income therefrom, upon such terms and for such consideration' as respondent in his 'absolute discretion may deem fitting'; (c) to invest 'any cash or money in the trust estate or any income therefrom' by loans, secured or unsecured, by deposits in

Page 333

banks, or by purchase of securities or other personal property 'without restriction' because of their 'speculative character' or 'rate of return' or any 'laws pertaining to the investment of trust funds'; (d) to collect all income; (e) to compromise, etc., any claims held by him as trustee; (f) to hold any property in the trust estate in the names of 'other persons or in my own name as an individual' except as otherwise provided. Extraordinary cash dividends, stock dividends, proceeds from the sale of unexercised subscription rights, or any enhancement, realized or not, in the value of the securities were to be treated as principal, not income. An exculpatory clause purported to protect him from all losses except those occasioned by his 'own wilful and deliberate' breach of duties as trustee. And finally it was provided that neither the principal nor any future or accrued income should be liable for the debts of the wife; and that the wife could not transfer, encumber, or anticipate any interest in the trust or any income therefrom prior to actual payment thereof to her.

It was stipulated that while the 'tax effects' of this trust were considered by respondent they were not the 'sole consideration' involved in his decision to set it up, as by this and other gifts he intended to give 'security and economic independence' to his wife and children. It was also stipulated that respondent's wife had substantial income of her own from other sources; that there was no restriction on her use of the trust income, all of which income was placed in her personal checking account, intermingled with her other funds, and expended by her on herself, her children and relatives; that the trust was not designed to relieve respondent from liability for family or household expenses and that after execution of the trust he paid large sums from his personal funds for such purposes.

Respondent paid a federal gift tax on this transfer. During the year 1934 all income from the trust was dis-

Page 334

tributed to the wife who included it in her individual return for that year. The Commissioner, however, determined a deficiency in respondent's return for that year on the theory that income from the trust was taxable to him. The Board of Tax Appeals sustained that redetermination. 38 B.T.A. 1532. The Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. 8 Cir., 105 F.2d 586. We granted certiorari because of the importance to the revenue of the use of such short term trusts in the reduction of surtaxes. 308 U.S. 542, 60 S.Ct. 139, 84 L.Ed. —-.

Sec. 22[a] of the Revenue Act of 1934, 48 Stat. 680, 686, 26 U.S.C.A. Int.Rev.Acts, page 669, includes among 'gross income' all 'gains, profits, and income derived * * * from professions, vocations, trades, businesses, commerce, or sales, or dealings in property, whether real or personal, growing out of the ownership or use of or interest in such property; also from interest, rent, dividends, securities, or the transaction of any business carried on for gain or profit, or gains or profits and income derived from any source whatever.' The broad sweep of this language indicates the purpose of Congress to use the full measure of its taxing power within those definable categories. Cf. Helvering v. Midland Mutual Life Insurance Co., 300 U.S. 216, 57 S.Ct. 423, 81 L.Ed. 612, 108 A.L.R. 436. Hence our construction of the statute should be consonant with that purpose. Technical considerations, niceties of the law of trusts or conveyances, or the legal paraphernalia which inventive genius may construct as a refuge from surtaxes should not obscure the basic issue. That issue is whether the grantor after the trust has been established may still be treated, under this statutory scheme as the owner of the corpus. See Blair v. Commissioner, 300 U.S. 5, 12, 57 S.Ct. 330, 333, 81 L.Ed. 465. In absence of more precise standards or guides supplied by statute or appropriate regulations,1

Page 335

the answer to that question must depend on an analysis of the terms of the trust and all the circumstances attendant on its creation and operation. And where the grantor is the trustee and the beneficiaries are members of his family group, special scrutiny of the arrangement is necessary lest what is in reality but one economic unit be multiplied into two or more2 by devices which, though valid under state law, are not conclusive so far as § 22(a) is concerned.

In this case we cannot conclude as a matter of law that respondent ceased to be the owner of the corpus after the trust was created. Rather, the short duration of the trust, the fact that the wife was the beneficiary, and the retention of control over the corpus by respondent all lead irresistibly to the conclusion that respondent continued to be the owner for purposes of § 22(a).

So far as his dominion and control were concerned it seems clear that the trust did not effect any substantial change. In substance his control over the corpus was in all essential respects the same after the trust was created, as before. The wide powers which he retained included for all practical purposes most of the control which he as an individual would have. There were, we may assume, exceptions, such as his disability to make a gift of the corpus to others during the term of the trust and to make loans to himself. But this dilution in his control would seem to be insignificant and immaterial, since control over investment remained. If it be said that such control is the type of dominion exercised by any trustee, the answer is simple. We have at best a temporary reallocation of income within an intimate family group. Since the income remains in the family and since the husband retains control over the investment, he has rather complete assurance that the trust will not effect

Page 336

any substantial change in his economic position. It is hard to imagine that respondent felt himself the poorer after this trust had been executed or, if he did, that it had any rational foundation in fact. For as a result of the terms of the trust and the intimacy of the familial relationship respondent retained the substance of full enjoyment of all the rights which previously he had in the property. That might not be true if only strictly legal rights were considered. But when the benefits flowing to him indirectly through the wife are added to the legal rights he retained, the aggregate may be said to be a fair equivalent of what he previously had. To exclude from the aggregate those indirect benefits would be to deprive § 22(a) of considerable vitality and to treat as immaterial what may be highly relevant considerations in the creation of such family trusts. For where the head of the household has income in excess of normal needs, it may well make but little difference to him (except income-tax-wise) where portions of that income are routed—so long as it stays in the family group. In those circumstances the all-important factor might be...

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1010 practice notes
  • United States Nat'l Bank v. Comm'r of Internal Revenue (In re Estate of Margrave) , Docket No. 2210-76.
    • United States
    • U.S. Tax Court
    • October 10, 1978
    ...12 T.C. 1047 (1949); Johnstone v. Commissioner, 76 F.2d 55 (9th Cir. 1935). 2 Under our tax laws, since Helvering v. Clifford, 309 U.S. 331 (1940), the short-term or revocable trust is regarded as the alter ego of the decedent. 3 I have no difficulty reaching this conclusion notwithstanding......
  • Helvering v. Stuart, Nos. 49 and 48
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • November 16, 1942
    ...footnote page 3 (63 S.Ct. 143), on the ground that the trust incomes are chargeable to the donors under the rule of Helvering v. Clifford, 309 U.S. 331, 60 S.Ct. 554, 84 L.Ed. 788. That is, whether after the establishment of the trust the grantor may still be treated as the owner of the cor......
  • Francisco v. U.S., No. 00-1802
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • February 5, 2001
    ...broad sweep of this language indicates the purpose of Congress to use the full measure of its taxing power...." Helvering v. Clifford, 309 U.S. 331, 334 (1940); see also Commissioner v. Glenshaw Glass Co., 348 U.S. 426, 432 (1955) ("The definition of gross income has been simplified, but no......
  • Farmers Cooperative Co. v. Birmingham, Civ. No. 537.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • October 8, 1949
    ...327 U.S. 293, 66 S.Ct. 539, 90 L.Ed. 679; Corliss v. Bowers, 1930, 281 U.S. 376, 50 S.Ct. 336, 74 L.Ed. 916; Helvering v. Clifford, 1940, 309 U.S. 331, 60 S.Ct. 554, 84 L.Ed. 788, and Helvering v. Gordon, 8 Cir., 1937, 87 F.2d 663. If an organization at the time the income was received by i......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1008 cases
  • United States Nat'l Bank v. Comm'r of Internal Revenue (In re Estate of Margrave) , Docket No. 2210-76.
    • United States
    • U.S. Tax Court
    • October 10, 1978
    ...12 T.C. 1047 (1949); Johnstone v. Commissioner, 76 F.2d 55 (9th Cir. 1935). 2 Under our tax laws, since Helvering v. Clifford, 309 U.S. 331 (1940), the short-term or revocable trust is regarded as the alter ego of the decedent. 3 I have no difficulty reaching this conclusion notwithstanding......
  • Helvering v. Stuart, Nos. 49 and 48
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • November 16, 1942
    ...footnote page 3 (63 S.Ct. 143), on the ground that the trust incomes are chargeable to the donors under the rule of Helvering v. Clifford, 309 U.S. 331, 60 S.Ct. 554, 84 L.Ed. 788. That is, whether after the establishment of the trust the grantor may still be treated as the owner of the cor......
  • Francisco v. U.S., No. 00-1802
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • February 5, 2001
    ...broad sweep of this language indicates the purpose of Congress to use the full measure of its taxing power...." Helvering v. Clifford, 309 U.S. 331, 334 (1940); see also Commissioner v. Glenshaw Glass Co., 348 U.S. 426, 432 (1955) ("The definition of gross income has been simplified, but no......
  • Farmers Cooperative Co. v. Birmingham, Civ. No. 537.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • October 8, 1949
    ...327 U.S. 293, 66 S.Ct. 539, 90 L.Ed. 679; Corliss v. Bowers, 1930, 281 U.S. 376, 50 S.Ct. 336, 74 L.Ed. 916; Helvering v. Clifford, 1940, 309 U.S. 331, 60 S.Ct. 554, 84 L.Ed. 788, and Helvering v. Gordon, 8 Cir., 1937, 87 F.2d 663. If an organization at the time the income was received by i......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 firm's commentaries
  • The Economic Substance Doctrine: A U.S. Anti-Abuse Rule
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • May 5, 2022
    ...property. (Corliss v. Bowers, 281 U.S. 376, 378 (1930); see also Commr. v. P. G. Lake, Inc., 356 U.S. 260 (1958); Helvering v. Clifford, 309 U.S. 331 (1940); Griffiths v. Commr., 308 U.S. 355 (1939); Sachs v. Commr., 277 F. 2d 879, 882-883 (8th Cir. 1960), affirming 32 T.C. 815 (1959)) A me......
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  • The grantor trust rules: An exploited mismatch.
    • United States
    • The Tax Adviser Vol. 52 Nbr. 11, November 2021
    • November 1, 2021
    ...to their children. Instead of making it a complete gift, the taxpayer retained the power to revoke the trust). (30) Helvering v. Clifford, 309 U.S. 331, 339 (1940) (Justice Owen Roberts's (31) See Clifford, 309 U.S. at 334. The Court relied on Sec. 22(a) of the Revenue Act of 1934 (the pred......

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