The first of the "modern" federal death tax laws, enacted in 1916 "imposed upon the transfer of the net estate of every decedent" a tax measured essentially by the net value of certain property interests at the time of his death. The tax was upheld as an indirect tax or excise upon the privilege of transmitting property at death and its fundamental nature has never been changed. There has been, however, an almost continuous controversy as to the property interests which may and should be included in the basic measure of the tax-the gross estate--and the present law embodies numerous amendments in this respect. The property interests included may be classified as (1) interests passing by will or the laws of succession and (2) interests of which the decedent for no valuable consideration made a transfer inter vivos related in some manner to his death. The latter type of interests, included in the gross estate in an effort to prevent tax avoidance, have precipitated most of the Supreme Court decisions in the estate tax field, and as to the inclusion of these interests there has been "painfully developed" a "concept of a transfer" which is unique.
Henry J. Merry,
FEDERAL ESTATE AND GIFT TAX: CONCEPT OF A TRANSFER,
Mich. L. Rev.
Available at: https://repository.law.umich.edu/mlr/vol38/iss7/5