IPSWICH — George Foster returned home to Massachusetts from World War II after two years in a British hospital recovering from a tank shell wound suffered in the Siege of Bastogne in Western Europe.
He built a modest home on a tree-lined county road in coastal Ipswich — where he and his wife raised four children — before passing away at age 84 in 2007.
As the widow of a combat-injured veteran, his wife, Robertta, was entitled to 100 percent property tax abatement on the couple’s home under a state law enacted to help wounded warriors returning from Iraq and Afghanistan but that also applied to veterans of earlier wars.
Yet nobody told the aging widow she was eligible, family members say, so she continued to pay property taxes until her death three years later at 87.
Foster’s family learned of the tax abatement law as they prepared to settle their mother’s estate. The discovery sparked a three-year battle with the state and the Town of Ipswich that culminated last week when Gov. Deval Patrick signed legislation reimbursing the Fosters for more than $15,000 of erroneous tax payments.
“Nobody wanted to take responsibility for this anywhere along the bureaucratic chain,” said Holly Foster, 57, who said town officials resisted efforts to recoup the taxes her mother paid. “They threw out everything they could as reasons not to pursue it.”
The daughter, who still lives in Ipswich, said the family’s conflict with Ipswich Town Hall was never about the money.
“It was always about the principle,” she said. “If they could do something like this to my parents, who served their country so honorably, how many other veterans did they overlook?”
Town officials said they couldn’t reimburse the family without an act of the Legislature because the appeal period — 30 days after taxes were paid — had long expired.