Military Widow Says Texas Law Is Costing Her Thousands of Dollars

GEORGETOWN, TX (KXAN) — The adage “time heals all wounds” doesn’t quite apply to Miriam Dugan.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him,” Dugan said with tears in her eyes.

Nearly three decades after the death of her husband Donald, the Georgetown widow still speaks emotionally of him.

“The love he gave me was so strong that I will always love him, always and… [recording] because I will cry,” Dugan said.

In 1996, Sgt. Donald Dugan was only a few months away from retiring from the US Army when he was sent out for the last time. He died in combat in Croatia.

“It was the worst day ever,” Dugan recalled.

Heartbroken, Dugan never remarried and raised his two daughters alone in the Killeen household. Just a few years ago, she moved to Georgetown.

  • Memorial plaque honoring the memory and self-sacrifice of Sgt. Donald Dugan. (KXAN Photo/Mike Rush)
  • Memorial plaque honoring the memory and self-sacrifice of Sgt. Donald Dugan. (KXAN Photo/Mike Rush)
  • Miriam Dugan looks through documents related to her tax exemption. (KXAN Photo/Mike Rush)

It was after this step that Dugan realized that the benefit she was counting on was in question. As the widow of a man killed while serving in the military, Dugan is the wife of a Gold Star, and in the state of Texas, she is eligible for 100% property tax relief on her home.

But last year, she received a tax bill that said she owed more than $5,500.

She said the Williamson County IRS told her, “That’s because I bought a more expensive house than the one I had before in Killeen. I have to pay the difference.”

Dugan thought it was a mistake, but it’s right. Under Texas law, if a spouse moves out of the home where they first received a tax exemption, that exemption, based on the value of the home they leave, goes with them.

So, if the new house is more expensive, the widow or widower must pay taxes on the difference.

“I think it’s sad,” said Tamra Cipes, president of Gold Star Wives of America. “I think the state should look at it and fix it.”

Cipes said each state decides what property tax credits, if any, are available to Gold Star spouses.

Florida is like Texas. If the spouse moves to a new home, only the tax exemption from the previous home applies. Arkansas and Oklahoma offer 100% property tax relief to Gold Star spouses, even if they move to another home within those states. The State of Washington does not offer property tax relief to Gold Star spouses unless they are age 62 and earn more than $40,000 a year.

KXAN investigator Mike Rush asked Cipes, “Do most states fail to do this well?”

“Yes, 100% is not enough. It really comes down to making sure our voices are heard.” Sipes said. “We’re such a quiet voice that it’s very hard to get the attention of legislators and states.”

So, unless something changes, this release Dugan is counting on won’t go that far.

“It would be a complete joke for me to say, ‘Oh, I’m the Gold Star’s wife,’ but I don’t have any advantages. I still have to pay,” Dugan said.

In Texas, if a Gold Star spouse remarries, he or she completely loses the right to property tax exemption.

KXAN Investigator Mike Rush reached out to Texas legislators on veterans’ affairs committees to see if they could address the issue. We will keep you updated on any changes to the operation.

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