Q: Someone paid my deceased uncle’s property taxes before I could pay them. Does this mean that person now owns the property? The property has a mortgage on it. What should I do next?
A: Here’s the good news: Just because someone paid the taxes on your deceased uncle’s property does not mean that they get to claim ownership of the home.
But, and it’s a big one, if your uncle failed to pay the taxes on his home for several years, the local taxing authority has the right to sell the property to satisfy that debt. In turn, the person that buys the property (the tax buyer) can end up owning the property if the owner fails to pay back the taxes owed after a certain period of time.
Who owns the property now that your uncle has passed? You, or the owner, need to go to the local taxing authority and find out how much money is owed for past due taxes. In some places, you have to order a certificate of redemption, or some other form. No matter what it is called, what you want is a statement of the balance that’s owed for the property’s unpaid taxes.
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Once you have that amount, you have to pay the municipality what is owed. Don’t be surprised to find out that the amount owed is a whole lot more than the original tax bill. The local taxing authority may tack interest on to the unpaid balance, along with a variety of fees.
You need to get these back taxes paid quickly to avoid losing the property. Given that we don’t know how long it’s been since your uncle stopped paying his taxes, you should move on this quickly. Time is of the essence.
Now, if your uncle, the executor of his estate, or his lender (if he still had a mortgage on the property) were paying the property taxes when due, it’s also possible that someone paid the taxes on your uncle’s property by mistake. Even if that’s the case, you should still pay the taxes and clear things up. The person that paid them in mistake will have to apply for a refund.
When you go to the tax office, make sure you update the address where the tax bill should be sent. If you’re going to pay the taxes in the future, you want to make sure you receive all future tax bills. If you don’t get a bill, you might forget that the taxes are owed and have to go through the tax redemption process all over again.
Once you change the address on the tax bill, and get caught up on past due bills, your uncle’s property should no longer be in jeopardy.
(Ilyce Glink is the author of “100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask” (4th Edition). She is also the CEO of Best Money Moves, a financial wellness technology company. Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. Contact Ilyce and Sam through her website, ThinkGlink.com.)