Plaintiff appeals from a denial of her claim for a tax exemption under the provisions of N.J.S.A. 54:4-3.30(b), which provides for a tax exemption to widows of qualified disabled veterans. The facts are not in dispute, as a result, both parties have moved for summary judgment.
Block 1009, Lot 94, which is commonly known as Two Newport Lane, is a residential property, which was acquired by Frazier E. Sheppard by deed dated June 3, 1978. Mr. Sheppard was a veteran who qualified for a 100% exemption from taxation under N.J.S.A. 54:4-3.30(a). On June 24, 1978, Mr. Sheppard married plaintiff. On May 29, 1979, Mr. Sheppard executed a will devising all his property, which included his dwelling, to his two sons by a previous marriage. On July 11, 1979, Mr. Sheppard died. At the time of his death, Mr. and Mrs. Sheppard were not residing together, Mr. Sheppard had been living at the subject property and Mrs. Sheppard elsewhere, however, they were still legally married.
Decedent in his will nominated one of his aforesaid sons as executor, and in the event his son had not attained his majority, he appointed his aunt as executrix and testamentary guardian of his sons until they reached their majority. Since both children were minors and decedent's aunt renounced, plaintiff applied, qualified and was issued letters as administratrix, c.t.a. of her deceased husband's estate on August 14, 1979.
After Mr. Sheppard's death, his wife moved back into the subject property where she now resides with the aforesaid two infant sons of her husband for whom she is presently caring as foster mother and legal representative.
The assessor assessed the property as of August 1, 1979, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 54:4-63.28, holding that the exemption had ceased with Mr. Sheppard's death. Plaintiff appealed that decision to the Burlington County Board of Taxation, asserting that she was entitled to have that exemption continue under N.J.S.A. 54:4-3.30(b), which reads, in relevant part:
The widow of [a military veteran who had a one hundred percent permanent disability] who at the time of his death was entitled to the exemption provided under this act [ N.J.S.A. 54:4-3.30(a)] shall be entitled, on proper claim made therefor, to the same exemption as her husband so had, during her widowhood and while a resident of this State, for the time that she is the legal owner thereof and actually occupies the said dwelling house, or any other dwelling house thereafter acquired.
By the above-stated statute, after the death of a qualified tax-exempt veteran, for the property to continue to enjoy its tax-exempt status four factors are required:
(1) Claimant must be the widow of the veteran and she must remain a widow;
(2) the widow must be a resident of this state;
(3) the widow must be the legal owner of the dwelling; and,
(4) the widow must actually occupy the dwelling.
Both parties agree that in the instant case requirements (1), (2) and (4) have been met, leaving only (3) in dispute.
Plaintiff claims she is the "legal owner" of the property as a result of her dower interest in the property and based upon ...