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The cornerstone of the federal estate tax, upon its enactment in 1916, was the provision-the prototype of Section 811(c) of the Internal Revenue Code-sweeping into the decedent's gross estate all property which he had transferred to others during his life either "in contemplation of . . . his death" or by a disposition "intended to take effect in possession or enjoyment at or after his death." Without these aggressive clauses, the tax would have embraced little more than the property actually owned at death. The tax collector then would have been a timid soul indeed, forced to stand by passively while taxpayers disposed of the bulk of their wealth in anticipation of the death levy. Over the years, however, and despite these clauses, the courts
brought the tax collector to his knees. To prove that a gift was made "in contemplation of death," the Commissioner was forced to embark upon a hopeless search for "the motives and purposes of one who is dead, the proofs of which, so far as they survive, are in the control of his personal representatives." Meantime the "possession or enjoyment" provision was emasculated by "technical and sterile definitions;" the melancholy story of its progress "from riches to rags" is familiar and need not be retold.
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