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Heirs' Property

Land Ownership

Agricultural land ownership is vital for many communities and is a key issue for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) farmers and producers. Despite immense challenges, many African Americans acquired land following the Civil War and through the early 1900s by various means. Land ownership provides a measure of economic stability and supports local businesses, provides employment opportunities, and increases generational wealth. 

What is heirs' property?

Heirs' property is property passed to family members by inheritance, usually without a will or estate planning strategy. It is typically created when land is passed on from someone who dies without a will (intestate) to those legally entitled to their property, such as a spouse, children, other relatives.

However, if the title remains in the original owner's name, it is considered cloudy, negatively impacting the heirs. Land may pass through several generations without a will, increasing the number of heirs and causing complex legal issues. Heirs' property can be mitigated through appropriate business entities and succession planning.

Heirs' property is most predominant among African American landholders, contributing to land loss from 16 million to 4.7 million acres over the last hundred years. It is also an issue for Latinx families in the southwest, Indigenous families on reservations, and low-income families in Appalachia.  

Land Matters: Understanding Heirs' Property

Recording of Land Matters: Understanding Heirs' Property from October 12, 2021. (1 hour 9 minutes)

Featuring keynote speaker Mavis Gragg of HeirShares, and guest speakers Francine Miller (Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law School) and Rusty Rumley (National Agricultural Law Center).

Heirs' Property Videos

Epidemic Loss of African American-owned Land

Keynote speaker Mavis Gragg discusses the history of African American land ownership between the end of slavery and present day. (2:34 minutes)

Evolution and Implication of Heirs' Property in African American Communities

Keynote speaker Mavis Gragg discusses how African Americans made conscious planning decisions to protect their property by passing ownership through inheritance. (2:26 minutes)

Uniform Partition of Heirs' Property Act

Guest speaker Rusty Rumley of the National Agricultural Law Center talks about necessary steps and processes to keep land in the family. (1:56 minutes)

Heirs' Property State Factsheets

The Center for Agriculture and Food Systems have put together state factsheets examining state laws that are relevant to heirs' property owners, and outlines steps owners can take to resolve property issues before seeing an attorney. 

Each factsheet includes how to identify legal heirs of the original land-owning ancestor, state partition law, state laws that permit sale of land due to unpaid property taxes, and other related state laws. 

Selected Resources

State Resources
  • The Georgia Heirs' Property Law Center provides legal support and asset education to help prevent land loss. 
  • Land Loss Prevention Project (North Carolina) provides assistance for all financially stressed and limited resource farmers in North Carolina to help prevent further land loss. This include litigation, public policy, and promoting sustainable agriculture and the environment. 
  • Louisiana Appleseed Center for Law & Justice advocates for justice, opportunity and education. They connect vulnerable communities with their network of pro bono professionals to develop sustainable and meaningful solutions.
  • McIntosh SEED  works in the coastal region of Georgia and the deep South (Alabama, Florida, & Mississippi) to strengthen low-wealth families, while improving low-wealth rural communities through asset-based economic development, education reform, empowerment, and environmental preservation.
  • The Mississippi Center for Justice is a public interest law firm working to advance racial and economic justice by combining legal services with policy advocacy, community education, and media outreach.
National Agricultural Law Center
Additional Resources

Heirs' Property in the Farmland Access Legal Toolkit

Center for Agriculture and Food Systems. Vermont Law School.

Provides historical context of heirs' property in the U.S. and details the related legal challenges many families face. It also includes information on the Uniform Partition of Heirs' Property Act. 

Heirs' Property Landowners

U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Includes resources that assist heirs' property owners establish a farm number and details the USDA's Heirs' Property Relending Program.

Estate Planning and Taxation Guide

National Agricultural Law Center.

Contains publications and research on business goals, familial relations, and succession planning. The resource also links to federal and state estate and tax laws, regulations, and case law.  

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