B-256766 August 15, 1994

B-256766: Aug 15, 1994

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Edda Emmanuelli Perez
(202) 512-2853
EmmanuelliPerezE@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

" it may be considered as included under such terms in relation to "the last domicile in the United States" as that phrase is used in 22 U.S.C. The unclaimed estate of a U.S. citizen whose last domicile in the U.S. was the CNMI. Murphy Subject: Disposition of the estate of a U.S. citizen who died abroad whose last known U.S. domicile was Saipan - B-256766-O.M. Sec. 4195 and whose last known domicile was Saipan. The legal issue is whether the CNMI can be considered a "domicile in the United States. " as that phrase is used in section 4195. Code provides in pertinent part: "If no claim to the effects * * * shall have been received * * * within six years from the date of the receipt of the effects by the General Accounting Office.

B-256766 August 15, 1994

DIGEST

Date: August 15, 1994 To: Director, Claims Group/OGC - Sharon Green From: Acting General Counsel - Robert P. Murphy Subject: Disposition of the estate of a U.S. citizen who died abroad whose last known U.S. domicile was Saipan - B-256766-O.M.

This responds to the question which has arisen in the Claims Group regarding a U.S. citizen who died in Singapore leaving an unclaimed estate transmitted to GAO through the Department of State under 22 U.S.C. Sec. 4195 and whose last known domicile was Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). The legal issue is whether the CNMI can be considered a "domicile in the United States," as that phrase is used in section 4195, so that the unclaimed estate can be transmitted by GAO to the proper officer thereof, or whether the estate should be disposed of as otherwise provided in section 4195. As explained below, we conclude that the estate should be transmitted to the CNMI.

Section 4195 of title 22, U.S. Code provides in pertinent part:

"If no claim to the effects * * * shall have been received * * * within six years from the date of the receipt of the effects by the General Accounting Office, the funds so deposited, with any remaining unsold effects, less transmittal charges, shall be transmitted by that office to the proper officer of the State or Territory of the last domicile in the United States of the deceased citizen, if known, or, if not, such funds shall be covered into the general fund of the Treasury as miscellaneous receipts on account of proceeds of deceased citizens, and any such remaining unsold effects shall be disposed of by the General Accounting Office in such manner as, in the judgment of the Comptroller General, is deemed appropriate, or they may be destroyed if considered no longer possessed of any value: Provided, That when the estate shall be valued in excess of $500, * * * before disposition of the estate as provided herein, notice shall be given by publishing once a week for four consecutive weeks in a newspaper published in the county of the last known domicile of the deceased, in the United States, * * * ." (Emphasis added.)

The question then is whether a domicile in the CNMI is a domicile "in the United States" within the meaning of the quoted language. The language concerning transmittal to the proper officer of the "State or Territory" implies that to be in the United States, such domicile must be in a State or Territory.

The provision directing the transmittal of the deceased citizen's funds and property to the last domicile in the United States was added to what is now section 4195 by the act of July 12, 1940, ch. 618, 54 Stat. 758. At that time, the Northern Mariana Islands were not a U.S. commonwealth; they were under Japanese jurisdiction, and Puerto Rico, the only other U.S. commonwealth and the model for the CNMI, did not achieve formal commonwealth status until 1950-52.[1] Therefore, in 1940 when the language in question was added to section 4195, there were no U.S. commonwealths.[2]

The relationship of the Northern Mariana Islands with the United States began under a Congressionally authorized Trusteeship Agreement approved by the United Nations Security Council after World War II, which did not confer the status of a U.S. territory or possession. See B-163113, Jun. 27, 1968. That Trusteeship Agreement has been dissolved by the United Nations, and the Northern Mariana Islands have achieved the Congressionally approved status of self-governing Commonwealth, "in political union with and under the sovereignty of the United States," with its citizens becoming U.S. citizens.[3]

Generally, insular territories and possessions of the United States have been considered "unincorporated" territories of the United States, as distinguished from territories incorporated in the Union, i.e., those clearly destined for statehood. This distinction was made regarding application of various constitutional provisions in the series of Insular Cases decided by the Supreme Court in the early 20th Century, and since followed by that court. See particularly Balzac v. Porto Rico, 258 U.S. 298, 311 (1922). See also U.S. v. Verdugo-Urquidez, 494 U.S.259, 268 (1990). An "unincorporated" territory was not considered to be part of the United States for some purposes. The CNMI and Puerto Rico have not been considered "incorporated" territories.[4]

The unique status of commonwealth, however, appears to carry with it a greater degree of sovereignty, more like a state than a mere unincorporated territory, and for some purposes the CNMI and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico have been treated like States.[5] As noted above, the covenant establishing the CNMI specifically places it in political union with and under the sovereignty of the United States, and by virtue of which most of those domiciled in the CNMI became U.S. citizens.

As indicated above, the purpose of the provision of section 4195 in question is to dispose of the deceased citizen's funds and effects by transmitting them to the jurisdiction of his or her last domicile in the United States. Also, as noted above, at the time of the enactment of section 4195 no U.S. territory or possession had been formally established as a commonwealth. Thus, there would not have been any legislative intent to exclude a commonwealth, such as the CNMI from coverage under the statute. Therefore, we do not believe that because the CNMI may not precisely fit the definition of State or Territory requires its exclusion.[6] To do so would appear contrary to the overall purpose of the statute, particularly considering that the deceased received U.S. citizenship by virtue of the Northern Mariana Islands achieving commonwealth status.

Accordingly, the effects and funds in this case should be sent to the proper officer of the Commonwealth in the usual manner, provided the other provisions of the statute have been complied with.

OGC Form 500(Rev 3/92) (form omitted)

1. See Wabol v. Villacrusis, 958 Fed. 2d 1450, 1458-59 (9th Cir. 1990); and Calero-Toledo v. Pearson Yacht Leasing Co., 416 U.S. 663, 671 (1974).

2. While several states style themselves as commonwealths (i.e., Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia), they are states within the meaning of the Constitution.

3. See Articles I and III, Covenant to Establish a Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas in Political Union with the United States of America, Pub. L. 94-241, March 24, 1976, 90 Stat. 263, as amended, 48 U.S.C. Sec. 1681 (1988), note.

4. See, e.g., Wabol v. Villacrusis, 958 F.2d 1450, 1459, note 18 (9th Cir. 1990); and Examining Board v. Flores de Otero, 426 U.S. 572, 599-600 (1976).

5. See, e.g., CNMI v. Atalag, 723 F.2d 682 (9th Cir.) (1984); Calero-Toledo v. Pearson Yacht Leasing Co., 416 U.S. 663 (1974).

6. Compare, Carlos Garcia, et al., 67 Comp.Gen. 135 (1987), which allowed application of the relocation income tax allowance to relocations to U.S. territories and possessions (including the Northern Mariana Islands even though those territories and possessions were not specifically mentioned in the law.