Veterans and their families may be aware that property tax exemption is available for 100% service-connected disabled veterans and disabled veterans suffering with certain specific severe conditions. The state law is found at N.J.S.A. 54:4-3.30.The law also makes these exemptions available to the veteran’s surviving spouse: ” b. (1) The surviving spouse of any such citizen and resident of this State, who at the time of death was entitled to the exemption provided under this act, shall be entitled, on proper claim made therefor, to the same exemption as the deceased had, during the surviving spouse’s widowhood or widowerhood, as the case may be, and while a resident of this State, for the time that the surviving spouse is the legal owner thereof and actually occupies the said dwelling house or any other dwelling house thereafter acquired.” A claim must be filed, as specified by N.J.S.A. 54:4-3.31, and the surviving spouse must certify the requirements set forth in N.J.S.A. 54:4-3.31, which includes a certification that the surviving spouse “has not remarried.”
A recent New Jersey Tax Court case examined the meaning of the terms widow and widower. In Rosanna Pruent-Stevens v. Township of Toms River, Tax Ct. (Brennan, J.T.C.), the court determined that the terms “widow” and “widower” define a person and not a marital status, and that the exemption would be available to the surviving spouse during periods in which s/he is not married after the death of the veteran. Rosanna Pruent’s husband was a Vietnam Veteran who was exposed to Agent Orange while in Viet Nam. He died in 1989 at age 41 of medical conditions that were possibly linked to Agent Orange, and his widow applied for DIC benefits from the VA. Finally the VA found that his death was service-connected, and awarded her the DIC benefits retroactive to his date of death. This determination was made in 2014 — 25 years after his death Meanwhile, she had remarried in 1993; it appears the married lasted only four years, and then this second husband died in 2014. In 2015 after receipt of the VA’s decision on service-connected disability, she applied for a real estate tax exemption as the widow of a disabled veteran. This exemption was denied, and the appeal to the Tax Court followed.
The Tax Court concludes that because there is ” sufficient ambiguity” as to whether the term “has not remarried” indicates a present or past marital status, an examination of legislative intent was necessary to figure out the meaning of the phrase. The court determined that the legislative intent was that it represented present marital status. So, a surviving spouse’s exemption is available to them during periods when they are not married. The court also determined that “fundamental fairness” requires that the surviving spouse’s marital status should not be considered until the VA has rendered its decision that the veteran had a service-connected disability and was rated at 100%. The surviving spouse would be eligible to apply as long as s/he was unmarried at that time. http://caselaw.findlaw.com/nj-tax-court/1876350.html
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