Lien on a Property after Death

Lien on a Property after Death: it’s unlikely that any liens could or would attach to the home for any debts or obligations prior to death.

By Ilyce Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin

Q: My life partner and I owned our home as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. We were not married. She died and left me her share of our home. I am the executor of her estate and the home is in Maryland. 

I filed her income taxes in the year she died and she owed the IRS and the State of Maryland around $1,500. She only had about $300 to her name at the time of her death, so there was no money to pay her income taxes. 

I had the estate attorney inform the IRS and the state department of revenue that her estate could not pay income taxes. It has been nearly three years since her death and so far I have not heard from the IRS or the State of Maryland. I also have not seen any attempts to lien any of her former properties that are now in my name. 

Can the IRS or the State of Maryland place a lien on my property in an attempt to collect income taxes owed by her from the year before she died?

Lien on Property for any Taxes Owed

A: Thank you for your question and our condolences on your loss. Let’s start with the home. You and your partner owned the home as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. This means that when either of you were to die, the survivor would become the sole owner of the property.

It appears that upon her death, you became the sole owner of the home and now own the home subject to any liens that attached to the home prior to your partner’s death. If you and your partner took out a mortgage on the home. You’d still be obligated to pay off the mortgage debt. The same goes for real estate taxes. Whether you owned the home jointly with your partner or alone. You owe any real estate taxes that are due on the home.

If your partner had any federal or state income tax liens filed against her while she was alive, those liens would attach to the home as well. Now that you are the sole owner of the home, it’s unlikely that any liens could or would attach to the home for any debts or obligations she might have had prior to her death.

Executor of the Will and Administering Estate

If this is keeping you up at night, consult with an estate attorney about your situation. We suspect your partner had a will and that you were named the executor of the will and administered her estate after her death. We wonder whether you probated the will or whether you simply acted as the administrator without going through probate court. Depending on where you live, and the value of her estate, including her share of the property, you may not have been required to open probate. 

Still, this raises some issues.

You can’t simply say that you were the administrator of her estate without some legal authority to do so. If you took it upon yourself to take care of her estate without having a legal right to do it. You could get yourself into trouble. Now, if you did probate the will and the probate court appointed you as the legal representative of the estate. You would have authority to act on behalf of the estate and even sign tax returns for the estate.

As a court appointed representative, you would have a duty to account for your partner’s assets and determine her liabilities. You would then use whatever assets were in her estate to pay her debts and close out the estate with the probate court and account to the probate court with what you have done.

Talk to an Attorney about Tax Issues

If you hired a probate attorney to help with the process, talk to the attorney and walk through your concerns. On the other hand, if you did all this on your own, you should call an estate attorney and discuss these matters. While it may not be likely that the IRS or the state would come after you for a small amount of money that was owed, and given what was left in the estate, we are concerned that you might have signed tax returns without proper authorization. 

Still, it’s unlikely the taxing authorities will file a lien on the home now. Nonetheless, we think you should talk to an estate attorney to make sure everything was done properly.

©2023 by Ilyce Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin.