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HEIRS PROPERTY DEFINED
Heirs property is land that is jointly owned by descendants of a deceased person whose estate was never handled in probate court and is passed down from generation to generation. These joint owners (heirs) have the right to use the property, but none of them have a clear title. Without proper documentation and a court proceeding to clear the “cloudy” title, third parties (like banks, mortgage lending companies and others have no way of knowing who is really entitled to the property and whether any creditor claims apply. This means that none of the heirs can sell, mortgage, or make any repairs the real estate.
Recent NBC news clip (<5 minutes) featuring SC Center for Heirs Property. (9/2021)
IMPLICATIONS OF HEIRS PROPERTY
- The land becomes vulnerable to involuntary loss through adverse possession, tax auction, or a partition-by-sale if granted by the court.
- The heirs cannot sell the property or use it as collateral for a mortgage
- The property may be ineligible for federal assistance, like USDA farm programs or FEMA support after a natural disaster
- Most potential tenants, logging companies, or other people who may wish to do business with the property may refrain due to title and ownership issues;
- Heirs may be reluctant to repair or improvement the property because every dollar spent is supposed to be divided among all of the other heirs.
- Family relationships can be ruined forever
- Precious family history and evidence of community contributions can be lost
The proportion of land owned by heirs is disproportionately high among racial and ethnic minority groups, low-wealth and low-income households, and other vulnerable populations who are less likely to conduct sophisticated estate planning. Relatively high rates of African American land loss during the 20th century likely contributes to the widening racial wealth gap by depleting existing assets and undermining the transfer of these assets across generations.
Of special interest to North Carolina Heirs Property owners in the Roanoke Electric Management Cooperative, the Enviva Heirs Property Fund (EHPF), was established in 2022 and is dedicated to ending involuntary land loss across the U.S. Southeast. Today, Enviva formally commits $250,000 on an annual basis to provide support to landowning families in the U.S. Southeast through direct financial support for professional services, identifying pathways for families to capture sustainable land value, and through public policy advocacy at the state and federal levels. EHPF’s efforts will begin in 2022 in Mississippi and North Carolina, and will expand to include direct financial aid to landholders incrementally throughout Enviva’s operational footprint in the coming years, in addition to the national policy work currently underway.
Heirs Property Resources
Heirs’ Property: Understanding the Legal Issues in North Carolina (VT)
Myths & Facts about Heirs Property (GA)
Sustaining Ecological and Economic Diversity Among Limited Resource Landholders by Expanding Opportunities for Management of Opportunities for Management of Productive Woodlands (NC / NCSU)
How to Deal with Heirs Property (NC / UNC)
Splitting Heirs: The Challenges Posed by Heirs’ Property Ownership to Coastal Resilience Planning (NC SeaGrant)
Heirs Property Resources (NC Roanoke Electric Coop)
Identifying Potential Heirs Properties in the Southeastern United States (USDA)
Heirs’ Property in the Southern United States (USDA)
Heirs’ Property and Land Fractionation: Fostering Stable Ownership to Prevent Land Loss and Abandonment (USDA)
Heirs Property Fund (Enviva)
Map Source: Uniform Laws Commission