Special Homestead Exemptions For Senior Citizens: Fact V. Fiction
by James C. Joedecke, Jr.
Ad valorem tax appeals are a large part of my law practice. Over the past few years, I have handled some of the largest ad valorem business tax appeals (both real property and inventory related), as well as many of your residential appeals. I will talk more about strategy related to ad valorem tax appeals in a future column. One question I get asked fairly regularly has to do with special homestead exemptions available to those 62 and older. For purposes of this article, I will discuss exemptions and application procedures in Gwinnett County, however, I have checked with both Hall and Barrow Counties and they have similar exemptions, limits and procedures in place.
I am a senior citizen. What special exemptions are available to me to reduce my tax burden?
There are two popular exemptions that benefit seniors.
The Senior School Tax Exemption (L5A) provides a 100% exemption from taxes levied by the Gwinnett County Board of Education on your home and up to one acre of property. You must be 65 years old as of January 1 of the application year or 100% totally and permanently disabled, and must occupy your residence within the Gwinnett County School District. Income must not exceed $25,000, and you must provide documentation of your income for the year prior to the year for which application is being made.
The Regular School Tax Exemption (S3) provides a partial exemption from school taxes. You must be 62 years old as of January 1 of the application year. The Regular School Tax Exemption is mainly for those who have retirement and social security income only. Any taxable income over $10,000 will likely disqualify you. here are income requirements and you must provide documentation of your income for the year prior to the year for which application is being made.
What form do I use to apply and what forms are needed to verify my income?
The same form is used to apply for all Gwinnett County homestead exemptions and can be accomplished online. You will need to provide copies of pages one and two from your prior year Federal 1040 and pages one through three of your prior year Georgia 500. If you file separately, you will need to provide both claimant and spouse’s income tax returns. If you are not required to file an income tax return, you will be required to provide a copy of your social security statement reflecting what you receive and/or copies of bank statements reflecting what income you receive. With both exemptions, both claimant and spouse’s income is taken into consideration, even if you file separately and even if only the claimant is listed on the deed. There are also exemptions available to veterans and their spouses and spouses of deceased veterans, those who are disabled, and spouses of deceased firefighters/police.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) for many, the income limitations will prevent you from taking advantage of these exemptions. Please note that Gwinnett County does recommend that you apply even if you think you may not qualify. The application deadline for all homestead exemptions is April 1st. To view information about all of the homestead exemptions offered in Gwinnett County, visit the Gwinnett County Tax Assessor’s informative website.
In closing, I have an amusing anecdote about homestead exemptions and jury duty. A few years back, I had a client come to me after Gwinnett County had revoked his and his wife’s homestead exemption for that current tax year and several prior years. The potential taxes and penalties owed was over $50,000. It all started when my client had been summoned for jury duty. Instead of reporting for his civic duty, my client cleverly (or so he thought), advised the Court Clerk that his place of residence was not in Gwinnett County, but at his second home at Lake Burton. The Court Clerk agreed that he was not required to report for jury duty after questioning him about how long he’d resided at his Lake Burton home. The Court Clerk also reported him to the Tax Assessor for falsely claiming a homestead exemption in Gwinnett County. As you can imagine, his spouse was furious. After a lengthy appeal, wherein I argued (at the wife’s urging) that her husband was an idiot and that she had never waived her homestead exemption, we were able to settle the matter. Ultimately, the husband sheepishly served jury duty.
Stay on the lookout for Jim Joedecke’s monthly articles in the “Inside the Gates” magazine!