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$6 Tax Bill Costs Woman Her House

In some areas of the law, a person's mental state or their intent is important. Criminal law typically requires that one have a guilty mind, in addition to performing a criminal act for all of the elements of a crime to be satisfied. Tax law, generally, is not one of those areas.

Of course, willful tax fraud or financial transactions whose only reason for existence is tax avoidance, will bring up the question of intent, but most tax laws are technical and factual. You either paid or did not pay the tax; your intention is irrelevant.

In a case that plays on the emotions, but not on the language of a tax statute, a widow in Pennsylvania has lost her home to a tax sale caused by her failure to pay a $6.30 interest payment on a late property tax bill.

Her husband had died and she used her life insurance to pay off the mortgage. She also suffered additional personal problems, including serious physical injuries to herself and her daughter.

She was unable to work and fell behind on her taxes. When she paid the property tax bill, she was six days late and $6.30 in interest had accumulated. But the law is the law, according to the county's solicitor, who stated, "the tax real estate law, doesn't give a whole lot of room for error."

She is appealing this ruling, the USA Today reports she currently owes more than $20,000 in tax penalties and interest to the local taxing authorities. This case is a prime example of why any notice of delinquent taxes needs to be addressed quickly, with the assistance of a tax professional, as tiny, and seemingly trivial amounts can snowball in significant legal problems if ignored.

Source: USA Today, "Pa. judge upholds sale of widow's home over $6 tax bill," Michael Winter, April 29, 2014

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