Homestead Exemptions to Property Taxes in TX
October 9, 2009 10:50 AM   Subscribe

What is the definition of the phrase "qualified for" in the TX Property Tax Code (section 11.13(q)(1))?

Asking for a friend:

Section 11.13(q) of the Texas Property Tax Code (which covers the "Under-55 Surviving Spouse" property tax exemption) reads:

(q) The surviving spouse of an individual who qualifies for an exemption under Subsection (d) for the residence homestead of a person 65 or older is entitled to an exemption for the same property from the same taxing unit in an amount equal to that of the exemption for which the deceased spouse qualified if:

(1) the deceased spouse died in a year in which the deceased spouse qualified for the exemption;
(2) the surviving spouse was 55 or older when the deceased spouse died; and
(3) the property was the residence homestead of the surviving spouse when the deceased spouse died and remains the residence homestead of the surviving spouse.

(the subsection (d) says that "an individual who is disabled or is 65 or older is entitled to an exemption from taxation")

So here's the question:

My father was born in June 1944. He turned 65 in June 2009, and died of cancer in July 2009, but had not yet applied for the "Over-65" property tax exemption. My mother (his spouse of 40+ years) is 63 years old. I had her fill out the paperwork to apply for the "Over-55 Surviving Spouse" exemption, but it was denied, citing the above section of the code (11.13(q)). She called the information line, and they told her that she was ineligible for the exemption because my father had not applied for the "Over 65 exemption" by the time he died. So in my mind, what they're essentially saying is that the word "qualified" does not mean "eligible for," but "actually receiving."

Which interpretation is correct?

Secondary question: Would filing for a retroactive "Over-65" exemption in my (deceased) father's name be an option? Presumably she could then subsequently file for the "Over-55 Surviving Spouse" exemption.

Tertiary question: Can anyone recommend a real estate attorney in the Houston area (South Belt-ish, ideally) who could provide a (free?) consultation on this matter? Seems like it's a simple yes-or-no question on whether she has grounds for an appeal.

Quaternary question: How onerous is the appeals process/hearing? While we all agree that having formal representation at an appeal hearing would be the best-case scenario, that's probably not an option for reasons of cost. We've looked into HVLP, but she's got a 30-day window to file an appeal, and we need to know ASAP whether it's worth pursuing.

posted by gemmy to Law & Government (4 answers total)
Attorneys usually don't charge for a consultation--set up meetings with a couple and see what the cost will be. Use and search for trusts and estates firms with a low number of attys under the advanced search.
posted by lockestockbarrel at 11:39 AM on October 9, 2009

That question is likely more than a yes or no answer. Such is the nature of seemingly simple legal questions.

I think you are on the right track with professional representation. You can probably list counsel after filing the appeal, so don't let that deter you. You can also probably withdraw the appeal if you decide not to continue, if you find out that you don't have a leg to stand on. All of this weighs in favor of filing, regardless of whether you can get representation or an answer within the thirty-day window.

If the appeals process you're referring to is the Harris County Appraisal District, it's not onerous. I do have it, on rumor and intrigue, that they're cracking down on property tax challenges because revenues are down. That shouldn't deter you and it might explain the initial decision.

While I do not know an attorney who fits your bill, I can refer you to the free helpline that the Houston Bar Association runs -- next time the law lines are open is October 21. You can also use that website to find a referral to an attorney, some of whom have sliding scales for payment.
posted by *s at 11:47 AM on October 9, 2009

[asker here]

lockestockbarrel -- Why a low number of attorneys?

*s -- thanks for the info. All of that is very helpful (and yes, Harris County), especially the bit about the LegalLine.
posted by Doofus Magoo at 12:45 PM on October 9, 2009

Other things being equal, a CPA or a tax attorney would have more relevant experience than a real estate attorney. Not true in all cases of course.

You need not only the answer to your question, but also a professional who knows what to do with that answer.

If you're being screwed over by the state taxing authorities and big bucks are involved, it's both demeaning and useless to talk to some drone on a helpline.
posted by JimN2TAW at 7:13 PM on October 9, 2009

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