Wrong Name On Annual Assessment Causes Tax Problems

Q: I seem to be lost in a bureaucratic Bermuda triangle and could really use your help.

My name is spelled incorrectly on the annual assessment notice and the twice yearly property tax bills for my residence that I receive in the mail.

It is spelled correctly on the deed, all of the mortgage paperwork, and in the county’s online real estate index. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve submitted the necessary form to get this corrected. I’ve submitted the forms by mail and in person with no effect.

The local process requires me to submit the paperwork to a city (Detroit, Michigan) office which is then responsible for transmitting the correction to a county (Wayne) office for correction. Everyone in the city office is very pleasant and apologetic about this. No one in the county office will speak with me because that’s not proper procedure.

No one has any difficulty cashing my checks, and the funds do seem to be properly applied to my tax account. Does the error matter? If it does, please advise me on the best way to get someone to pay attention to getting this fixed.

A: As it goes with some governmental agencies, paperwork sometimes gets filed in what we affectionately call the “circular file cabinet.”

If your name is misspelled but still does a pretty good job of identifying who you are, you may want to give up and live with the issue. In many parts of the country, you would file your paperwork with the governmental agency in charge of tax assessments, county records or tax bills.

In your case, if the misspelling is minor, the government employee who receives your name change form may simply not see that the misspelling and not correct the information.

From your perspective, the important thing is that the property is in your name. When it comes time to sell your home, you shouldn’t have trouble selling it. But what you need to make sure is that the misspelling does not cause any changes in your home’s assessment, valuation or tax bills.

In some parts of the country, if you live in your home and it’s your primary residence, you get a tax benefit. In other parts of the country, if you buy the home and stay in that home as your primary residence, your real estate tax bills can only go up by a certain amount on a yearly basis until you sell the home. You need to make sure that the name misspelling does not cause you any problems with those tax issues.

You’ve been able to talk to the employees of some of the county offices, so call them back and make sure that your tax assessment is correct and that your tax bill is correct. If you’re paying the right amount, you may still want to try to get the name corrected on your assessment notices, but at least you’ll know that it isn’t causing you financial harm to have the misspelling.

If you find out that you’re not getting the right tax benefits, reductions or discounts and it’s due to the name misspelling, you may need to talk to a supervisor, if you are able to get find one.

You can try to explain the problem to the office you’ve been talking to and also ask them for a suggestion as to whom you should talk to. Sometimes, those people that work for the taxing bodies can be quite helpful, particularly when they see a problem that can be corrected easily.

Finally, if you simply can’t get anybody to help you, you may need to find an attorney to help you out. You should find an attorney that works extensively with real estate assessment and tax appeals and works daily with the offices that are causing you trouble. The real estate chair of your local bar association should be able to point to you in the right direction.


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