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Volume 2 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 71

Opinions of Counsel index

Assessment roll; Tax lien list (designation of owner) (estate) - Real Property Tax Law, §§ 502(2), 1002(2):

Title to real property can never be in an estate, and ownership in the name of an estate in fact denotes no owner, for an estate “cannot be an owner in any sense, and no title could be acquired under a sale for taxes upon such an assessment”.

We have received an inquiry as to whether the word “(Estate)” may appear on an assessment roll or tax lien list.

          On some assessment rolls and tax lien lists there are entries with “(Estate)” added next to the name of the owner. This designation, in our opinion, satisfies the requirement in Real Property Tax Law, sections 502(2) and 1002(2) that the entry include the name of the owner or the last known owner. However, it is to be noted that title to real property can never be in an estate, and ownership in the name of an estate in fact denotes no owner, for an estate “cannot be an owner in any sense, and no title could be acquired under a sale for taxes upon such an assessment.” (Cromwell v. MacLean, 123 N.Y. 474, 487, 25 N.E. 932.) There is a line of cases which support this decision (e.g., Trowbridge et al. v. Horan et al., 78 N.Y. 439; MacKie v. Brown, 199 N.Y. 71, 92 N.E. 131; McCue v. Board of Supervisors of Monroe County, 45 App. Div. 406, 61 N.Y.S. 315, aff’d 162 N.Y. 235, 56 N.E. 627); we are also aware of one case which may be deemed to dilute this interpretation (Sanders v. Carley, 83 App. Div. 193, 83 N.Y.S. 106, aff’d 178 N.Y. 622, 70 N.E. 1108).

However, in view of the possible challenge to the tax deed, it is our opinion that real property should not be listed on an assessment roll or a tax lien list in the name of an estate. The parenthetical addition of “(Estate)” to the name of the deceased owner (i.e., last known owner) is a permissible entry which provides useful information in a tax lien list. Our comment is one of caution; that is, the assessor or county treasurer should be certain that “(Estate)” is maintained as a parenthetical addition and does not become the designation of ownership applicable to the real property subject to the tax lien.

October 6, 1972

Updated: