Drye v. United States, 528 U.S. 49 (1999)

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OCTOBER TERM, 1999

Syllabus

DRYE et al. v. UNITED STATES

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eighth circuit

No. 98-1101. Argued November 8, 1999—Decided December 7, 1999

In 1994, Irma Drye died intestate, leaving a $233,000 estate in Pulaski

County, Arkansas. Petitioner Rohn Drye, her son, was sole heir to the estate under Arkansas law. Drye was insolvent at the time of his moth-er's death and owed the Federal Government some $325,000 on unpaid tax assessments. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had valid tax liens against all of Drye's "property and rights to property" pursuant to 26 U. S. C. 6321. Drye petitioned the Pulaski County Probate Court for appointment as administrator of his mother's estate and was so appointed. Several months after his mother's death, Drye resigned as administrator after filing in the Probate Court and county land records a written disclaimer of all interests in the estate. Under Arkansas law, such a disclaimer creates the legal fiction that the disclaimant prede-ceased the decedent; consequently, the disclaimant's share of the estate passes to the person next in line to receive that share. The disavowing heir's creditors, Arkansas law provides, may not reach property thus disclaimed. Here, Drye's disclaimer caused the estate to pass to his daughter, Theresa Drye, who succeeded her father as administrator and promptly established the Drye Family 1995 Trust (Trust). The Probate Court declared Drye's disclaimer valid and accordingly ordered final distribution of the estate to Theresa, who then used the estate's proceeds to fund the Trust, of which she and, during their lifetimes, her parents are the beneficiaries. Under the Trust's terms, distributions are at the discretion of the trustee, Drye's counsel, and may be made only for the health, maintenance, and support of the beneficiaries. The Trust is spendthrift, and under state law, its assets are therefore shielded from creditors seeking to satisfy the debts of the Trust's beneficiaries. After Drye revealed to the IRS his beneficial interest in the Trust, the IRS filed with the county a notice of federal tax lien against the Trust as Drye's nominee, served a notice of levy on accounts held in the Trust's name by an investment bank, and notified the Trust of the levy. The Trust filed a wrongful levy action against the United States in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas. The Government counterclaimed against the Trust, the trustee, and the trust beneficiaries, seeking to reduce to judgment the tax assessments against Drye, confirm its right to seize the Trust's assets in collection

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