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Property Tax Assessor v. Disabled Vet

Should a veteran be denied a homeowner tax credit because his daughter cares for him in her house?

Editor’s note: Hear Ye! Hear Ye! explores a real court case. Read about it below and decide how you would rule. Then read the actual verdict and let us know if you agree.

The Background

During World War II, Bernardino Flores spent three years as a Japanese prisoner of war in the Philippines. During that time, he suffered injuries that left him completely disabled.

After the war, Flores returned to the United States and moved to Salem, Ore. In 1985, when he was 74, Flores bought a three-bedroom house for $53,000. Slowly, he began to decline both physically and mentally. His sight also deteriorated, leaving Flores legally blind.

About five years after he bought the house, his daughter, Josefina Spiotti, thought that it was too dangerous for him to live in it by himself. She moved her father into her house while she worked on plans to make improvements to his house so it would be safe for him to live there again.

During the time her father lived in her home, Spiotti did everything for him. She helped him bathe, gave him medication, shopped for him, washed his clothes and made his food. She also paid his bills and took him to the doctor.

Meanwhile, his nephew moved into Flores’ home. Although the nephew did not pay rent, he began repairs and modifications so that his elderly uncle could move back in. But Flores’ condition continued to decline. Spiotti told the court he was “helpless.”

Rising in Value

Over time, Flores’ home had nearly doubled in value, which would have meant higher property tax bills had Flores not been eligible for the veteran’s homestead exemption. But in his 2006-2007 tax bill, Flores learned he was no longer eligible for this exemption. Under the Oregon state tax rules, a veteran had to live in the home, be “temporarily absent” or in a nursing home or other long-term care facility to qualify.

The assessor decided that his long absence from his house was not temporary. “We determined that he was living with Josefina at least three years and maybe as many as five years,” said Linda D. Box, administrative manager in the Assessor’s Office, in an interview with the AARP Bulletin. It was also determined that living in his daughter’s house and receiving care from her didn’t qualify as being in a long-term care facility.

To Court

Flores, represented by his daughter, appealed the assessor’s decision to the Oregon Tax Court in November 2007. He argued that Bernardino Flores still harbored hope that he could move back into his house, and therefore, his absence should be considered temporary. In addition, Flores said the care given to him by his daughter was the loving equivalent of what would be provided in a nursing home or long-term care facility. He should not be penalized and lose the property tax exemption, he argued, for being cared for by a family member.

Your turn! If you sat on the bench, how would you rule?

Robin Gerber is a lawyer and the author of Barbie and Ruth: The Story of the World’s Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Created Her.

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