Delinquent tax bill gets property owner’s attention

Published 9:48 am Wednesday, December 15, 2010


There’s this wooded, marshy, beguiling acre of land on the southern outskirts of the 460 corridor.

This pimplish beauty mark on the face of the earth, now shamelessly posing for the readers of The Tidewater News, has brought men, woman and animals to an awkward impasse. Where to start?

My aunt, Lucy Fulgham Haynes, discovered it some 50 years ago.

Then, still in Oregon, but prone to biennial trips to the backwoods of her youth, she dreamed of a retirement home, and the requisite spot of ground.

To this end, she approached a rumored old bootlegger about a spot along the north side of today’s Seacock Chapel Road. A deal was struck, and an acre lay in wait for its house.

At some point, in her comings and goings, she learned that it “can’t perk,” “doesn’t perk,” or whatever quaintness informs of too wet.

This minor setback led to a second purchase a mile west on the south side of the road.

It too, for whatever reason, was found inadequate and subsequently sold (ultimately landing in the estate of Raymond McClenny). A third acre, a few hundred yards further west, was purchased and eventually occupied.

Her West Coast career, her cross-country trips alone in her car — once stopping in Detroit to pick up a brand new push-button geared Desoto — was a thrilling source of pride to her family.

The home, and the original bootlegger’s lot (the acre), would comprise her estate until her death in April 2002.

The circumstances of her death are worth noting. She lingered on alone in a drafty, leaky house, past her 80th year, past the adequacy of her income, crumbling without and within, stubbornly resisting dialysis.

In early January of that last year, my cousin, Carol Joe Neclos, reached me on my Florida vacation, informing me that Aunt Lucy’s house was in foreclosure, and she was seriously ill and in the hospital.

My wife and I paid the necessary fees and arrears in an agreement where we would take possession of her estate along with a recently refinanced mortgage.

She was free and encouraged to return home, to live, as soon as she was able.

By early fall, the formalities were concluded; my wife, Betty, and I retired from our New York jobs, and Aunt Lucy had died, having never returned home.

The folks in the tax office, when made aware of the transfer, proceeded to tax me for the estate. All well and good. The very fact of the taxes was to me a comforting clincher.

Two hunt clubs vied for access to the acre. It is a roadside venue of a heavily traveled trail.

I’m not certain of the location. An old woods wonk advised me to “ . . . look for the big trees.” In passing the vicinity in late fall, I’m able to see a good size oak of maybe 50 to 70 years. That’ll have to do.

Now here’s the thing. At the moment of my signing — my aunt having already signed and now dead — I noticed that the prepared papers placed the acre on the wrong side of the road. After being advised that this problem would be attended to before filing, I thought no more of it. A careless approach to a serious matter.

What’s more, what appeared to be a simple error, was actually a complete substitution of lots. The paragraph, dubbed the Second Parcel, contained the previously sold lot.

The error in its entirety passed into the records. The acre never changed hands.

It was really no more than a footnote, right up to the point that I thought that it was mine.

Well, it’s not mine. Just last week, a lawyer dismissed my final plea that the existence of Parcel Two, accurate or not, implies a real second lot, and therefore evidence of intent to convey one . . . as too much of a stretch. Well, that’s that.

And that would be that, except for what they say about death and taxes.

Although I occasionally sought a miracle on the outside, I capitulated (three to four years ago) on the inside of the tax office.

Yeah, I can see the cuteness of it all. The guy shows up at tax time to argue that the property isn’t his. “It takes all kinds.”

Last winter, I quit paying and was then able to get someone in the tax office to take a look at that wrong-side-of-the-road thing. It was concluded that short of proving Aunt Lucy’s intent, the jig was up.

I was posted as a tax delinquent anyway.

I’m receiving a somewhat warmer reception now. You can imagine my reluctance to paying a lawyer to rid my estate of property I don’t own.

The lawyer who handled everything for Aunt Lucy and me no longer practices law, or whatever it was. I ran across him — no, not literally — about 18 months ago. I didn’t mention it.

And just in case you’re listening, it’s time for relevant relatives to step up to the plat.

CLARENCE FOSTER is a resident of Southampton County and 1963 graduate of Hayden High School.