Forms of Ownership

Single Ownership

A single owner may hold title to property, without any other person or entity sharing ownership. The property tax is assessed to the sole owner.

Multiple Ownership

More than one person or entity may hold title to property as multiple co-owners. Co-owners have concurrent interests – interest in the same property at the same time. They are jointly and severally liable for the tax assessed on property they own. This means that the community can assess or collect the tax from all or any one of the co-owners. Assessors must assess property taxes in the full name of at least one of the multiple owners of record and then should include as many other owners as their billing system allows. 

A tenancy in common is shared ownership where each co-tenant has an undivided interest in the whole property. The interests may be unequal, but each co-owner has a right to the possession, use and enjoyment of the entire property.

This form of ownership allows each co-tenant to transfer his share independently, i.e., co-tenants may acquire and convey their interests at different times. When a co-tenant dies, the co-tenant’s share goes to his or her heirs or devisees rather than to the other co-tenants. There is no right of survivorship.

Death of Owner

A death of record is when a death certificate for a deceased owner is recorded in the registry of deeds or when a petition for probate is filed in the probate court regarding the estate of a deceased owner. Unless there is a death of record, a property tax assessment to the record owner of real estate is valid.

Example: A deed to Ed from Dan of Greenacre was recorded in 1978. According to the town clerk, Ed died in 2005. No death certificate has been recorded at the registry of deeds and no petition for probate regarding Ed’s estate has been filed in the registry of probate. Because there is no “death of record” of Ed, Ed is still the record owner of Greenacre. An assessment of property taxes to Ed, even though Ed is deceased, is valid.

When a sole owner dies, the owner’s interest passes to the deceased owner’s heirs or devisees under the sole owner’s will. If there is not a “death of record” for the deceased sole owner, assessors should continue to assess property taxes to the deceased sole owner even if it is known that the person is deceased because he or she is still the record owner of the property. Once there is a “death of record,” an assessment to the deceased sole owner will be invalid. Assessors must look to the records of the probate court found in the registry of probate to determine the identity of the new record owner. 

Example: Ann is sole owner of Blackacre. Ann dies, but there is no death certificate recorded in the registry of deeds or probate filing in the registry of probate regarding Ann’s death. Ann is still the record owner of Blackacre and assessors should continue to assess property taxes to Ann even though she is deceased. Once a death certificate or probate filing regarding Ann’s death is filed in the registry of deeds or probate, then an assessment to Ann will be invalid because Ann is no longer a record owner of the property because of her “death of record.” The assessors must look to the records of the probate court found in the registry of probate to determine the identity of the new record owner. If the identity of the new owner is not included in those records, then assessors should assess to the “Heirs or Devisees of Ann.”