Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1956 No. 344 -
Attorney General Don Eastvold


Tax liens against real property become unenforceable upon an escheat to the state, and chapter 5, Laws of 1955, Ex. Sess. (RCW 79.44.170) does not apply.

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                                                               November 26, 1956

Honorable Don J. Clark
Prosecuting Attorney
Yakima County
102 County Court House
Yakima, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 55-57 No. 344

Attention:  !ttMr. Richard C. Focht, Deputy

Dear Sir:

            This is in answer to your letter of October 25, 1956, in which you inquire concerning the effect of chapter 5, Laws of 1955, Ex. Sess., as codified in RCW 79.44.170, upon a valid tax lien which has attached to lands prior to their escheating to the state of Washington.

            In our opinion the lien is not enforceable after title has passed by escheat.


            If title to this real estate has not already vested in the state the taxes could and should be paid.  However, under the authority of Halversen v. Pacific County, 22 Wn. (2d) 532, when land enters public ownership tax liens are discharged and become unenforceable.  This rule has been modified by the above statute in certain instances.  The statute reads as follows:

            "Anysale of real property to the state of Washington, or to any of its political subdivisions or agencies, shall not be valid as against the lien of any tax or assessment levied by any county, municipal corporation, or other tax or assessment levying public body, when the lien of such tax or assessment has attached to the property prior to the sale, and any such tax or assessment lien may  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] be enforced against the property sold in the same manner as if the property were owned by a private person."  (Emphasis added.)

            It is clear that only in the case of a sale of real property to the state or any of its political subdivisions or agencies does an attached tax lien remain enforceable.

            "A sale contemplates a consideration, or price, a seller, a purchaser, and a delivery of the thing sold."  Boyer v. State, 19 Wn. (2d) 134.

            An escheat is defined as a reversion of property to the state for want of any person competent to inherit.  Black's Law Dictionary (4th ed.).  Thus an escheat and a sale are entirely different methods by which title to property may be transferred.  It is therefore our opinion that chapter 5, Laws of 1955, Ex. Sess., (RCW 79.44.170) does not preserve the tax lien as against property which has escheated to the state.

Yours very truly,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General