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.
Heirs' Property Videos
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.
U.S. Department of Agriculture
- USDA's resources for Heirs' Property Landowners.
- USDA's Heirs' Property Relending Program information page.
- Fact Sheet about Heirs' Property from USDA.
- Guide to USDA Resources for Historically Underserved Farmers and Ranchers from the USDA Department of Natural Resources and Conservation Service (NRCS). Available in English, Spanish, Chinese, Hmong, Korean, Thai, and Vietnamese.
- Guidance For Heirs' Property Operators Participating in Farm Service Agency (FSA) Programs - USDA.
Center for Agriculture and Food Systems
Non-profit Direct Assistance
- Black Family Land Trust [bflt.org]
- Center for Heirs' Property Preservation [heirsproperty.org]
- Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund [federation.coop]
- HeirShares [heirshares.com]
- Indian Land Tenure Foundation [iltf.org]
- Sustainable Forestry and African American Land Retention Program [sflrnetwork.org]
- 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
- Resources for Underserved Communities: Highlight on Heirs' Property and Estate Planning
- Agricultural Leases Research
- Conservation Clarified: USDA Issues New Rulers for Conservation Provisions
- Differential Tax Assessment of Agricultural Lands (state by state)
- Indigenous Food and Agriculture
- Intestate Succession and Agriculture
- Should Potential Long Term Health Care Needs Be a Part of Your Farm Estate Plan?
- Biden Administration to Invest $67 Million to Help Heirs Resolve Land Ownership and Succession Issues - U.S. Department of Agriculture
- Heirs' Property and Land Fractionation: Fostering Stable Ownership to Prevent Land Loss and Abandonment - USDA. Forest Service
- Highlighting Heirs' Property Ownership and Land Loss - USDA. Forest Service
- Lenders Can Now Apply for New Heirs' Property Relending Program - USDA. Farm Service Agency
- Partition of Heirs Property Act - Uniform Law Commission
- The Time to Tap into Financial Assistance for Forest Landowners is Now; Six Assistance Programs are Available - Roanoke Electric
- U.S. Endowment for Forests and Communities - Sustainable Forestry as Generational Land Retention Strategy for Minority Landowners - U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities
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.
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.
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.