My Mother died in 1990 leaving property that I have had to pay propety taxes on for 17 years. None of my other 4 siblings help with these taxes. I'm at the age where I am exempt from paying taxes but the house and property is still in her name what can I do. Can I assume this property?
If your mother owned the house and land (property), the probate of her estate following her death should have distributed the property to the appropriate heirs. If your mother had a will, then the will would have governed who should have received the property. If she did not have a will, then the laws of intestacy in the state in which she was domiciled (permanently resided when she died) would have governed. The will may have given the property to you. The laws of intestacy, if they applied, more likely would have divided the property between you and your siblings (assuming children were the heirs under intestacy, i.e., no spouse). In many states in order to transfer title to real estate there may be a requirement for a tax clearance to assure than any estate, inheritance or other taxes were paid. You really need to address these issues with a probate attorney in the state where the property is. You may also need the assistance of a real estate attorney as well. Since your mother died 17 years ago, there will be some difficulties in addressing the probate or intestacy simply because of the time delays.
If you did not have title to the property you may not have been entitled to the income tax deduction (Schedule A, Itemized Deduction) for the property taxes. You really should address this issue with your accountant.
If there is a local homestead tax benefit on property tax because of age or other factors, you may not qualify if the title to the property is not in your name. You indicate that you are at the age where this might apply (some type of senior discount presumably), but ownership may be a factor. Be careful claiming such a property tax benefit in the event you don't qualify.
If you did not inherit the property as you believed you were supposed to, you should ask the real estate attorney whether there is any basis for a "adverse possession" proceeding. This is a legal doctrine which may afford someone who openly and notoriously possesses and uses property the right to the property. If you lived in and used the property, paid taxes as you indicated, and your siblings said nothing for 17 years there may, depending on the laws in the state where the property is located, be a basis for this.
There are a host of other issues you need to address. You likely have no title insurance on the property which could be a problem if someone challenges your claims to the property. You should address this with real estate counsel and a title insurance company.
Ask a local real estate lawyer about the issue of some type of court action whereby you can confirm (quiet) the title (ownership) of the property in your name. This might be necessary in addition to addressing the probate matters.
Is the property insured for casualty and liability risks? You really need to address the status of the property with your insurance carrier. If it is not clear that you own the property the insurance coverage may be jeopardized.
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