Does paying property taxes give you rights to property when the owner dies?

Dear Ms. Allison: My mother died. Her house is in her name (per the deed). My family and I have lived here for years and I have paid the taxes on the house every year that I’ve lived here. Now that mother has passed, my brother and sisters want to sell the house, but I want to keep it since it has become my family’s home. Since I’ve been paying the taxes, what are my rights? JT in Pottawattamie County.

Dear JT:

The house needs to go through probate because it is solely in your mother’s name. Your situation is the essence of when Court intervention is required after a property owner dies.

You will need a Probate Lawyer to help you with the Probate process in court.

  • If your mother had a Will the court orders the property to pass pursuant to that Will. In other words, the Will generally states who is to receive the property or what must be done with it once the owner dies. A Will is for instructing the court on where and to whom to transfer property owned by one person alone. If it is in the Will, the probate court generally upholds the Will’s instruction.
  • If your mother had no Will, the property passes by “intestate succession”, which is fancy lawyer language for: it will go to the people the state’s inheritance laws say should get it. For instance, most state legislatures enact laws for the circumstances under which property goes to the spouse, then children, then grandchildren, then others.

If your mother was not married at the time of her passing, Oklahoma’s laws of intestate succession usually give property in equal shares to you and your siblings. The fact that you paid the taxes does not change this because it has nothing to do with taxes. It looks like you have a couple of options:

  1. To recoup what you already paid in taxes, you may be able to get some money back if you press a claim to be repaid for them. This depends on further facts you might introduce to the court. Your lawyer can advise you.
  2. To keep the house as your own, you can try to buy your siblings out of their shares.

The fact that you paid the taxes, bills, home improvements, or even the mortgage gives you no greater right to the property than your siblings. The title (deed) and state laws are all that matter in this situation.

That’s your question, Asked and Answered. My best to you,

Gale Allison

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