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Inheriting a Tax Certificate

The email question asked, “My mother owned several tax certificates. She died last year. In her will, she left her entire estate to me. Does that give me the tax certificates, and allow me to get tax deeds? The local probate judge says I cannot get deeds unless I have a written assignment of the certificates. The judge says the will does not qualify as an assignment. Is that right?”

As a starting point, the statutes are very clear that tax certificates can be assigned “in writing or by endorsement.” An endorsement is like endorsing a check. You remember checks, don’t you? Of course, a written assignment on a separate piece of paper is always safest, though.

But, what about a will? Does that qualify? For over one hundred years, Alabama courts and Attorney General opinions said, “No.” Then, in 2012, someone asked, again, for an Attorney General’s opinion on the subject. Government officials can ask for an AG opinion about something related to their job. Not you or me, though. Don’t get your hopes up about free legal advice.

The AG’s opinion, Number 2012-012, says the Alabama Supreme Court decision that started all the trouble ACTUALLY said something different than what everybody thought. That’s not uncommon, by the way. Those old 1800’s decisions are really hard to read. Some people don’t even try. They rely on Headnotes, which are kind of a “cheat sheet synopsis” of the court opinion.

The AG said that when you read the entire decision and all of the facts, it was clear the Supreme Court said the local probate judge could not issue a deed to someone because they were not an actual heir, NOT because heirs could not inherit tax certificates under a will.

As a result, the AG revoked all of its prior opinions that relied on that decision. The opinion says, “Yes, you can inherit a tax certificate under a will, and receive a tax deed.”

Of course, that leaves open the question of what happens if someone dies without a will. Nobody knows, for sure. Maybe probate will have to be opened. Let’s hope this issue never comes up for any of you!

2 thoughts on “Inheriting a Tax Certificate

  1. while waiting for a court to decide the deed question, can an heir who now possesses the tax certificates lawfully collect rent from a tenant of tax certificate occupied property, rent out vacant property, and eject owners still in possession – or does the heir need 2 have the probate court appoint a personal rep 2 do that or assign the certificates

    1. Howard, you mean if the tax certificate holder dies without a will? I don’t know the answer. I would not be afraid to collect the rents, eject, etc. If somebody thought I was not entitled to do it, I think that would be something they would need to raise in a motion to dismiss. If they don’t raise it, then I think I’d be okay. If they did raise it, I would not be afraid of the issue. The law does not like ownership rights to be in limbo. Somebody has to own things. We might not know who that is right now, but it is somebody. Might as well be me.

What do you think?