Proposed legislation is designed to help senior citizens learn of tax exemptions and tax deadlines to prevent tax delinquency and the loss of their homes. The measure, drafted by students at The John Marshall Law School, is now before the Illinois Senate’s Revenue Committee.
The recession has hit homeowners hard and experts are finding that senior citizens are especially vulnerable to losing their homes but not because of the economy. Often seniors have the ability to pay, but fall into tax delinquency because they fail to properly read tax bills.
Thomas Wendt, chief legal officer for the Center for Disability and Elder Law (CDEL), said seniors tell CDEL volunteers they set the bill aside because their spouse who always handled the bill had died. Wendt said others had relied on a mortgage holder to pay taxes and don’t realize they now are responsible for taxes. Or, seniors said they couldn’t afford the taxes, but they also weren’t aware of various tax exemption options.
In an attempt to get tax bill reminders to these vulnerable homeowners, the Illinois legislature is expected to approve several means to help improve communication with senior citizens. Sen. John Mulroe (D-Chicago) has introduced SB 3381 that calls for tax bills to include reminder notices to pay taxes on time and use senior homeowners’ exemptions.
The bill was written by students in a Legislative Drafting class at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago which presented it to Sen. Mulroe. The bill is now before the Senate Revenue Committee.
“My mother and father have each been deceased for about two years now, but I will never forget the difficulty my parents had with paperwork in general, specifically tax returns and real estate exemption forms,” the senator said. “I eagerly and enthusiastically support legislation that will protect senior citizens and make it easier on senior citizens to claim exemptions they are entitled to receive.”
During the fall 2011 semester, the John Marshall students examined the issue with Adjunct Professor Kevin Hull and attorneys Anthony O’Neill and Benjamin Whipple of Williams Montgomery & John, and drafted a bill that will make changes on property tax notifications for senior citizens.
Whipple said the proposed legislation calls for all tax collectors in Illinois to mail a Senior Citizen Information Notice with each property tax bill. The notice will serve three purposes: 1) alert taxpayers tothe need to pay the property taxes; 2) remind taxpayers to register for available exemptions; 3) remind homeowners who recently paid off their mortgages that they are now responsible for paying their property taxes.
In addition, the legislation calls for a notice being sent to senior citizens who have applied for or received the Senior Citizens Homestead Exemption and have not paid their taxes within 30 days of the due date. That notice from the local assessor is meant as a reminder that taxes are past due.
The additional costs for these notices will be covered by a new fee imposed when property is purchased for delinquent taxes, Whipple explained.
Hull said his students are following the outcome of the legislation. “My students learn the nuts and bolts of the legislative process. This issue gave them a chance to plot a solution in drafting legislation for state policy,” Hull said.© 2012 The John Marshall Law School