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Who pays taxes on property owned by dead people?

WTOL 11 has discovered 15 percent of those who owe delinquent taxes have died. How should those cases be avoided?

TOLEDO, Ohio — Inheriting assets from a loved one who dies is often simple. A piece of jewelry, or a coin collection can be given to an heir and that's all that is necessary to transfer ownership. 

With a family home or other real estate, however, the process is more involved -- and in many cases too much for families to navigate.

11 Investigates spent five months poring over delinquent tax data from the Lucas County Treasurer's office.

Our investigation found that 15 percent of people listed as delinquent on taxes for properties they own are deceased. In some cases the property owners have been dead for decades.

Our analysis found that the problem often stems from confusion about how to handle the transfer of property when an owner dies. While many assume that the transfer of ownership to heirs is automatic, that's not the case.

When it comes to inheritance and estate planning, next of kin should be proactive. 

11 Investigates has discovered that 500 property owners who owe close to $8 million in property taxes have died. And because the next of kin didn't notify local officials, those properties are still improperly in their deceased loved one's name.

Local real estate attorney Richard Chamberlain said families should plan ahead and understand the necessary steps to properly transfer ownership of homes they inherit.

"If it's real estate, if it's in the name of the person who passed away, it'll stay in that name until someone does something with it," Chamberlain said. "So people will say I've been living in my father's house in his name for 15 years, now what do we do?"

Chamberlain said a person in this situation will have to jump through hoops and will have to potentially spend some time in court figuring it out. He explained why the government isn't in the loop when a property owner dies.

"The title actually transfers to the next owners at the moment that someone passes away," he said. "The county records don't catch up with that ownership change until a legal process has been gone through in order to make that change."

The government won't know if your loved one passed away and our legal expert said it'll make things complicated once you do eventually go through that process.

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