There are some circumstances in which a person’s eligibility for governmental benefits is affected by his or her marital status. This is certainly the case with Medicaid/MLTSS; Supplemental Security Income; and exemption from inheritance tax on receipt of an inheritance. The NJ Appellate Division had the opportunity recently to decide whether a veteran’s widow would retain her eligibility for his veterans’ property tax relief if she remarried. In Pruent-Stevens v. Toms River Twp., the property owner’s first husband was an honorably-discharged Viet Nam veteran. He died before 1997 at a time that he had a pending claim for service-connected compensation benefits due to exposure to Agent Orange defoliant. She remarried , and her second husband died in 1997. eventually, in 2014 (!) the Veterans Administration approved the claim and declared that the first husband had died of a service-connected disability. She then filed for disabled veterans property tax relief from Toms River.
The relevant statute allows a town to grant tax relief to the widow/widower of a disabled veteran provided that s/he “has not remarried.” The issue in the case was whether that status only pertained to the time that the application for the exemption was filed, or if it was a blanket cut-off for exemption eligibility for a widow who remarries at any time. The New Jersey Tax Court decided that the phrase “has not remarried” should be interpreted to mean that as long as the widow/er wasn’t married at the time of the application for exemption, the exemption would be available. In other words, it could turn on and off. She was unmarried in 2016 when her application was filed, so the Tax Court ruled in her favor. The Town appealed.
The Appellate Division reversed. Finding that she had no “vested right” at the time of her 1997 remarriage, and that in other areas of New Jersey law, “widow” is defined as a person who has not remarried, the court ruled that the potential entitlement to the exemption was lost as a result of having ever remarried.