Last week the New Jersey Tax Court issued a published opinion dealing with the applicability of the disabled veterans’ property tax exemption to certain surviving spouses of qualified disabled veterans. In Rosanna Pruent-Steven v. Township of Toms River, the court determined that the terms, “widow” and “widower” as they appeared in the State Constitution and the statute, define a person and not a marital status. Thus, surviving spouses of disabled veterans can be eligible for property tax exemption after they have remarried, provided that they are not currently married at the time they request the exemption.
The issue arose when the municipal tax assessor denied the property tax exemption request from a disabled veteran’s widow, who although currently unmarried, had previously remarried for a period of time after the death of her disabled veteran husband. In denying the request the assessor relied on the language of the statute requiring certain eligibility requirements, one of which is a certification that the surviving spouse, “has not remarried.” The assessor interpreted this to mean that once a widow (or widower as the case may be) has been remarried they forever cease to be eligible for the disabled veteran’s property tax exemption, regardless of their current marital status.
The Tax Court disagreed with the municipal assessor’s reading of the statute and instead found that the eligibility for the property tax exemption should be determined using the widow’s current marital status. By unlinking marital status and widowhood, the Tax Court creates a situation where a widow’s eligibility for the disabled veteran property tax exemption can essentially be paused during periods of remarriage. This occurs because the Tax Court has determined that once a widow, always a widow and therefore anytime the widow is unmarried they are entitled to the disabled veteran’s property tax exemption.
Municipal tax assessors need to be aware of this new ruling and should ensure that they are complying with the Tax Court’s holding when reviewing exemption requests from the surviving spouses of a disabled veteran. After this ruling, it is very much possible that previously denied exemption requests would now be approved upon a determination of the current marital status of the surviving spouse.
As of this date, we do not know if the Township will appeal the ruling.
Contact: Frank Marshall, Esq., League Staff Attorney, firstname.lastname@example.org or 609-695-3481 x137.