Wills & Heirs Property: Protecting Black-Owned Land

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Heirs' property header

It might not be a simple or easy issue to talk about, but a better understanding of wills and heirs property can help North Carolina families regain and maintain the ability to steward their family land. A recent Pew Charitable Trust article outlines some of the concerns around these two land tenure issues. When you read Racial Justice Push Creates Momentum to Protect Black-Owned Land consider how this information might relate to your family and community. Ask yourself what you can do to help maintain land in local multigenerational families and always remember that age old adage holds true – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

The specific steps you can take to resolve heirs property issues are summarized in this 2019 How to Close Heirs’ Property Loopholes weblink and shared below.

  • Plan for the future. Write a will or prepare a transfer on death deed to help pass a clear title to the next generation.
  • Pay your property taxes. Visit your tax assessor’s office and make sure that taxes are paid and that the address of the person responsible for coordinating bills is up to date.
  • Write a family tree. Find out the names on the deed for your land and lay out each generation of heirs that has followed. You can use legal documents from the county, like birth certificates and marriage licenses, as well as family letters, obituaries, information from genealogy websites and records from family reunions.
  • Create a paper trail to prove your ownership. If you inherited your property without a will or formal estate proceedings, many states allow for an affidavit of heirship to be filed in the property records to establish your ownership. The rules of when and how an affidavit can be filed vary by state.
  • Consolidate the ownership. Consider asking other heirs if they would be willing to transfer their interest in the property to those with the closest ties to the land. In many states, this can be done through a gift deed.
  • Manage the co-ownership. Talk to a lawyer you trust about your options, like creating a family LLC or land trust.
  • Track your expenses. If you pay for expenses on the property, like improvements to the homes or taxes, keep track of them. If a partition sale is started, you may be able to receive a larger share of the proceeds.

We hope to have an online resource page on heirs property by the end of 2020, but please contact us if you have questions on family farmland that might be affected by heirs property issues.

In the meantime consider watching these recent webinars featuring Mavis Gragg, Director, Sustainable Forestry and African American Land Retention Project, and Sam Cook, Executive Director of Forest Assets, North Carolina State University College of Natural Resources. 

Heirs Property: Standing on a Lot of Love

Heirs Property: Standing on a Lot of Love, Part II. A Deeper Look at Strategies for Heirs Property Owners

Also consider this 2016 SeaGrant report: Splitting Heirs: The Challenges Posed by Heirs’ Property Ownership to Coastal Resilience Planning

For more up to date information visit NC FarmLink’s Heris Property webpage.