Federal Estate Taxation of Community Property Life Insurance

Under section 2042 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954, proceeds of insurance policies on the life of the decedent payable to beneficiaries other than the decedent’s executor are included in the gross estate only if the decedent possessed at the time of his death “any of the incidents of ownership [in the insurance policies], exercisable either alone or in conjunction with any other person.” To determine the extent of the decedent’s “incidents of ownership,” the Regulations provide for the application of state property law. The problems inherent in relying upon state law to govern federal estate taxation of the proceeds of life insurance policies are compounded by the existence in several states of a community property system. In these states, thought-provoking questions arise in two factual contexts.