The App. Div. Says: “No Veteran’s Exemption Upon Remarriage”

by: Allan Zhang
29 May 2019

The Appellate Division reversed the Tax Court’s judgment conferring a military veteran’s exemption for tax year 2016 as the surviving spouse of her first husband (an honorably discharged, decorated Vietnam veteran who qualified for an exemption) who remarried. The spouse’s exemption qualifies only during widowhood related to the death of the qualifying husband. This right is extinguished upon remarriage.

The court discussed N.J.S.A. 54:4-3.30(b)(2) which grants a surviving spouse the same exception that the deceased veteran spouse would have been eligible for. This exemption continues during the surviving spouse’s widowhood. The Appellate panel then reviewed the terms “widowhood,” “widow,” and “widowerhood” and discussed the nuance differences regarding their definitions. New Jersey case law follows the majority of dictionary definitions in the term “widow” means a “woman who has lost her husband by death and has not taken another; the surviving lawful wife of a decedent.” Montclair Tr. Co. v. Reynolds, 141 N.J. Eq. 276, 279 (Ch. 1948).

Ms. Pruent-Stevens’ argument cited Hansen v. Brann & Stewart Co. 90 N.J.L. 444, 448 (Sup. Ct. 1917), stating the court noted that “a widow’s status continued notwithstanding her remarriage.” However, this case turned on the fact that petitioner’s husband was killed during his employment and petitioner was entitled to payments under the Workmen’s Compensation Act of 1911. In 1913, the Legislature amended this act to note that if the widow of a deceased employee remarries during the period covered by weekly payments, the right of the widow under the section shall cease.

Here, plaintiff did not have a vested right when she remarried. The Hansen court was not considering the term “widow” in the context of the tax exemption statutes. The Legislature’s language in N.J.S.A. 54:4-3.30(b)(2) is consistent with that of the case law. Further examination of the regulations implementing the exemption enforced the panel’s decision in that “remarriage of the surviving spouse terminates the tax exemption.” N.J.A.C. 18:28-2.5(b). The court concluded their decision is consistent with the Legislature’s intent and language and reversed the trial court’s decision.

A copy of Rosanna Pruent-Stevens v. Toms River Twp. can be found here.