Is It Possible More Than One State Can Claim Estate Death Taxes From You When You Die?

By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold, NJ Estate Planning Attorney

You bet it is! Unbelievable but true.

The Constitution doesn’t prohibit double taxation; there’s no “double jeopardy” when it comes to taxation. Two or more states can each conclude it is the taxpayer’s state of residence. In fact, notwithstanding multi-state tax offset/credit agreements, double taxation is a real risk for a taxpayer treated as a dual resident.

Likewise, there’s nothing that constitutionally prohibits two or more states from independently deeming a decedent as domiciled in their state for estate tax purposes.

While there are many cases supporting this premise, none is more famous or punitive than the estate of the Campbell Soup founder, Dr. John T. Dorrance, a former New Jersey and Pennsylvania resident.

John, president and founder of the Campbell Soup Company and originator of the canned soup industry died on 9/21/30 in NJ.

Preoccupied with saving inheritance taxes and ensuring that his family would retain sole ownership of the Campbell Soup Company, John wrote six versions of his will and added nine codicils. However, on his death, both New Jersey and Pennsylvania each assessed an inheritance tax against his estate, which at the time was worth more than $115 million.

Five years before his death, John, who was then domiciled in NJ, purchased another residence in Pennsylvania, where he and his family lived most of the time.

Even so, John’s business remained in New Jersey, he kept his residence in NJ, he voted in New Jersey and otherwise overtly indicated his intentions (verbally and in writing) to retain his residency and domicile in NJ. After John died at his residence in New Jersey, the estate probated his will in NJ.

The estate initially preferred to pay the NJ inheritance tax of some $12million (it being the cheaper of the two) and protested vehemently to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania that no PA inheritance tax was due because John was clearly domiciled in NJ.

The court disagreed and directed the assessment of a transfer tax of some $17million under the premise that John was domiciled in Pennsylvania at the time of his death. Thereafter, the estate appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to grant a hearing.

Ironically, it was those well-orchestrated arguments proffered by the estate to the supreme court of Pennsylvania that NJ seized on in successfully enforcing its own inheritance tax.

In the same way, the Supreme Court of New Jersey ultimately determined that John was domiciled in NJ and that Pennsylvania had no jurisdiction to levy an inheritance tax. The estate again appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which once more refused to hear the case.

The law is well settled that in the determination of domicile, a person’s expression of desire may not supersede the effect of his or her conduct. Recitals in Wills are not given particular weight in determining domicile in comparison with the evidence supplied by the daily life of the individual and his or her acts and conduct.

The estate of Dr. Dorrance experienced horrendous multi-state death tax consequences.

To discuss your NJ Estate Planning matter, please contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or email him at fniemann@hnlawfirm.com.  Please ask us about our video conferencing consultations if you are unable to come to our office.