Appeal from decree of Court of Common Pleas, Orphans' Court Division, of Allegheny County, No. 1163 of 1971, in re estate of Mabel J. Monheim, a/k/a Mabel Monheim, deceased.
Frederick N. Frank, Assistant Attorney General, with him John M. Duff, Deputy Attorney General, and Israel Packel, Attorney General, for Commonwealth, appellant.
Ivan E. Birsic, with him Cauley, Birsic & Conflenti, for appellee.
Jones, C. J., Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Chief Justice Jones. Mr. Justice Eagen dissents. Concurring Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts.
At issue in this appeal is the amount of transfer inheritance tax due on United States Government bonds valued at $48,760 which were registered in the names of the decedent, Mabel J. Monheim, and her sister,
Frances Monheim, at the time of the decedent's death.*fn1 The Commonwealth sought to impose transfer inheritance tax on 100% of the face value of the bonds at the time of death. The claim was denied by the administratrix, who asserted that under the provisions of Section 241 of the Act, the bonds were only taxable at 50% of their face value.*fn2 The Commonwealth filed its claim in the Orphans' Court Division of the Allegheny County Common Pleas Court, which upheld the administratrix's position limiting the imposition of the tax to 50% of the face value. Exceptions to the decree filed by the Commonwealth were dismissed and a final decree entered. The Commonwealth appealed to this Court. We affirm the decree of the Common Pleas Court.
The facts of this case were introduced by stipulation and are not in dispute. Mabel, Frances and Joseph Monheim were brother and sisters. None of them ever
married and prior to Mabel's death they lived together. Mabel and Joseph held outside jobs and Frances was responsible for the housework. It was stipulated that there was an understanding among the members of the family that Mabel and Joseph would provide for Frances' care and support during her lifetime in consideration for her homemaking contribution to the family unit. It was further stipulated that Frances utilized both Mabel and Joseph to transact her business for her and that they acted on her behalf frequently. Concerning the bonds at issue in this case, it was stipulated that Frances knew that Mabel was purchasing the government bonds in their joint names and knew that the bonds were kept in a safe deposit box in the Pittsburgh National Bank registered jointly in the names of Joseph and Mabel. Both Joseph and Mabel had keys to the safe deposit box and access to it. Finally it was stipulated by the family and agreed to by the Commonwealth that, although a request was never made by Frances, Joseph could and would have secured the joint bonds from the safe deposit box and delivered them to Frances upon request by her.
It is agreed by all that if Frances Monheim had access to the bonds, which were owned jointly by her and the decedent, they are only taxable at 50% of their face value in accord with Section 241 of the Act. However, the Commonwealth contends that, since Frances' only access to the safe deposit box was through her brother, Joseph, she did not have a right of possession sufficient to support a valid gift inter vivos and therefore the tax should apply to 100% of the face value. The appellee contends that where jointly titled bonds are held in a safe deposit box registered in the name of one ...