Q. I have a question about property taxes. If I have paid the property taxes for a home that belonged to my mother and now belongs to my grandchildren does that give me any claim to the ownership of the property?
A. Generally, the payment of real estate taxes alone is never sufficient to give the tax payer ownership rights to a property. Most, if not all, states have statutes that provide that an occupant or user of real estate can obtain ownership rights to the property if they satisfy various requirements for up to 21 years.
For example, these requirements might include the payment of real estate taxes, but would also require the occupant to use the property in a way that excludes the real owner from using the property. For example, if you paid the taxes and lived in the house and paid all of the expenses of ownership, that might be sufficient to prove ownership.
But you need to keep in mind the following: You can’t live in the property with the permission of the real owner, and you can’t be a long-term guest at the home. The real owner can’t live at the property while you stay there and you must continuously and openly live or use the property to the exclusion of the real owner.
The home was your mother’s and most likely she allowed you and other family members to live at the home. In this case, you would most likely never obtain an ownership right in the property.
If your mother had a will when she died and the will was not contested, her will would designate who would now own the property without regard to who paid the real estate taxes or who lived in her house.
If she had no will, the probate court following state laws would determine who would own the property.
It appears that you might resent the property taxes you have paid throughout the years on this property. If that’s the case, you should inform the current owner, presumably your grandchildren, that you will no longer pay these taxes, so they can make other arrangements to have them paid. Otherwise, they could lose the house for non-payment of taxes.
March 5, 2004