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It's The Law: Florida Homestead Tax Breaks

Question: I am new to Florida and understand that my home gets special taxes treatment. Can you explain?

Answer: If Florida is your permanent and primary residence, you are eligible for homestead property tax exemption. Property must be homestead as of January 1 to qualify for exemption that year and you must apply for homestead tax treatment with the property appraiser.

The biggest and most comprehensive Homestead Tax Break is established by Florida Constitution. The first $25,000 of an appraised value of homestead is exempt from valorem taxes. The next $25,000 of appraised value is exempt from all property tax expect those levied by school districts.

Florida also has an additional $50,000 exemption for low-income seniors. Counties and cities may grant an additional homestead tax exemption of $50,000 to any person who is 65 years or older and who's household income does not exceed at an amount which is indexed for inflation and is currently $27,030. The Collier County Board of Commissioners and Naples City Council have adopted this exemption by ordinance so that it applies to taxes levied by those governing bodies.

I statute, every widow or widower is entitled to an additional exemption of property up to the value of $500. This exemption is also available to blind persons and to persons who are totally and permanently disabled.

Veterans and surviving spouses of veterans may claim additional exemption. An ex-service member who is at least 10% disabled during a period of war time service or by misfortune, is entitled to an additional $5000 exemption. The ex-service member must have been a Florida resident at the time of entering military service as well as at the time of application of the exemption. Applications must include an official letter from the United States Department of Veteran Affairs confirming the service connected permanent disability. If both spouses qualify for the partial disability exemption, the exemptions can be stacked. A surviving spouse of a partially disability ex-service member, who has been married to the decedent for at least five (5) years will also qualify for the $5000 tax exemption.

Homestead property of a veteran who was honorably discharged with a service connected total and permanent disability is completely exempt from taxation. Homestead property of a Florida resident who dies from service connected causes while on active duty in the armed forces of the United States is also exempt from taxation if the veteran was a permanent resident of the State on January 1 of the year in which the veteran died. These tax exemptions may also be claimed by the surviving spouse if the spouse holds legal or beneficial title to the homestead and permanently resides thereon at death of the veteran.

In addition to all the exemptions, homestead property is benefited by the Save Our Homes Amendment to Florida's Constitution, which took effect on January 1, 1995. That provision limits increase in assessment of homestead property to lesser of 3% or increase the consumer price index.

With exception of the smaller or personal exemptions referenced above, the exemptions and Save Our Home benefit are available to a surviving spouse inheriting homestead property, even if the surviving spouse was not on title at the time of their spouse's death. However, the surviving spouse must make timely application with the Property Appraiser office for continuation of homestead tax benefit. That application must be filed no later than March 1 of the year for which exemption is requested. All to often, a surviving spouse fails to take the necessary filing and not only are the exemptions lost, but the property may be reassessed without the protection of the Save Our Homes.

Initial applicants for homestead tax treatment should make sure they understand all of the available exemption before making application. If they fail to tell the Property Appraiser about a disability or widow or widower status, those exemptions will not automatically be awarded. It is even more important for a surviving spouse to understand the need for timely application to continue benefits that will otherwise be lost due to death of his or her spouse. Consultation with a knowledgeable attorney for advice concerning these exemptions is recommended.

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