How do you apply for senior real estate tax freeze?  What documents would you need?

Q: I am going to be applying for the senior real estate tax freeze on my house this year. I do own my house but I don’t have any paperwork of any kind that says I am the owner. How do I prove that I do own my house? Also, when I moved into this house  20 years ago, I put the title to the home into a land trust so that when I die, the home automatically becomes my son’s house.

I would appreciate any direction you may provide to get a more detailed understanding of my ownership and how the land trust factors into the ownership. Am I moving down the right path?

Real estate deed states who owns the home

A: You are heading down the right path. When you purchased the home, your seller would have transferred the ownership of the home to you by means of a real estate deed. This deed is a document that details the names of the sellers and buyers, the address of the home, the tax parcel identification number, the legal description of the property and some other required information.

Once you closed on the home, the settlement agent would have had the deed filed or recorded with the office that handles real estate filings or recordings. If you need a copy of the deed you can likely obtain it through that office’s online website or by visiting the office in person. Most people will never need to see their deed after closing, except in very unusual situations. 

If you were to obtain a copy of your deed, you’d see that the buyer or owner of the home after your closing was the land trust. There are only a few states in the nation that use land trusts, but a land trust functions in a similar way to a living trust. 

You, the owner of the home, put the title of your home into a trust. The trust legally owns the home, but you are the beneficiary of the trust. As the beneficiary, you own the trust and can direct what the trust does with the home. 

In addition, you can set up a trust so that if something happens to you, you can name successor beneficiaries. This means that if you die, you can name your son as the successor beneficiary. Upon your death, your son would become the new beneficiary and can keep the home or sell it as his own. 

What if the home is in a land trust?

Here’s what to do if you want a copy of the deed that placed ownership of the home into the land trust: Go to the county recorder of deeds office in person or visit their website and download a copy of the deed. Some counties charge for an “official” copy, which you might need in some circumstances. Others do not. You might also contact the land trust company and have them send you a copy of the deed.

It seems as though every state treats senior tax freezes differently. In many municipalities, homeowners aged 65 years or older may be entitled to certain real estate tax benefits, including a property tax freeze. It’s worth doing a little research to see what benefits you might be entitled to if you’re living in a home you own as your primary residence.

Rather than spend your energy locating your deed, try contacting the office that handles real estate tax issues. Ask what, if anything, you need to prove your ownership of the home. You may find that you simply need to fill out some documentation that includes information about you, your age, your home and requires a copy of a government ID to obtain the real estate tax exemptions or freezes.

Because your property is in a land trust, you might need to deliver a document from the trustee that owns your home to the county taxing authority, letting it know that you are the rightful owner (i.e. beneficiary) of the trust.