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STRUNK ESTATE (03/24/52)

March 24, 1952

STRUNK ESTATE


Appeals, Nos. 51 to 55, inclusive, Jan. T., 1952, from decree of Orphans' Court of Berks County in Estate File No. 21330, in Estate of Milton R. Strunk, deceased. Drcree affirmed.

COUNSEL

George B. Balmer, with him Aaron A. Brumbach and Snyder, Balmer & Kershner, for appellants.

Francis J. Gafford, Deputy Attorney General, with him Frederick J. Bertolet and Robert E. Woodside, Attorney General, for appellee.

Before Drew, C.j., Stern, Stearne, Bell, Chidsey and Musmanno, JJ.

Author: Stern

[ 369 Pa. Page 479]

OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE HORACE STERN

The testator, in 1935, bequeathed an interest in remainder to children of his adopted child. Was the legacy subject to Pennsylvania transfer inheritance tax at the rate of two per cent or at the rate of ten per cent? From the decision of the court below that the Commonwealth was entitled to the ten per cent tax the legatees appeal.

Our first inheritance tax statute, that of April 7, 1826, P.L. 227, provided that all estates passing by will or under the intestate laws "other than to or for the use of father, mother, husband, wife, children, and lineal descendants born in lawful wedlock", should be subject to a tax at the rate of 2 1/2 per cent on the clear value of such estates. The transfer inheritance tax act presently in force, namely, that of June 20, 1919, P.L. 521, article 1, section 2, provides that "All taxes imposed by this act shall be at the rate of two per centum upon the clear value of the property subject to such tax passing to or for the use of father, mother, husband, wife, children, lineal descendants born in lawful wedlock, legally adopted children, children of a former husband or wife, or the wife or widow of the son, of a person dying seized or possessed thereof,. ..; and at the rate of five per centum [amended by the Act of May 4, 1921, P.L. 341 to the rate of ten per centum] upon the clear value of the property subject to such tax passing to or for the use of any other person or persons, bodies corporate or politic;...."

Appellants insist that they come within the term "lineal descendants born in lawful wedlock". This contention must be rejected when viewed in the light either of the ordinary meaning of the term "lineal descendants" or the interpretation consistently given to it by previous decisions of our appellate courts.

[ 369 Pa. Page 480]

Standard dictionaries define "descendant" as "one who is descended, as issue, lineally from another, however remotely";*fn1 "one who descends, as offspring, however remotely;"*fn2 "one who 'descends' or is descended from an ancestor; issue, offspring (in any degree near or remote)."*fn3 The word "lineal" is defined as "of the nature of an ancestral line or lineage";*fn1 "in the line of succession through lineage;"*fn2 while "lineage" is defined as "ancestral line of consanquinity; pedigree;"*fn1 "lineal descent from an ancestor; ancestry, pedigree."*fn3 It is obvious that all these definitions involve the inherent concept of offspring in the line of generation, that is, descendants who proceed in direct line by birth from the ancestor. Therefore a stranger in blood is not a lineal descendant.

While appellants must, of course, concede that the term "lineal descendants" as employed in the earlier acts of assembly must have been understood and intended by the legislature as bearing this generally accepted meaning, they contend that because a subsequent succession of statutes gradually raised the status of adopted children for inheritance purposes to that of natural children the term should be construed, as of the time of decedent's death, to include the children of his adopted child. They point to the fact that even in our first adoption statute, the Act of May 4, 1855, P.L. 430, section 7, it was provided that an adopted child should have all the rights of a child and heir of the adopting parent; that the ...


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