Heirs' Property - A Serious Problem Not Enough People Are Talking About

Without clear title, these descendant landowners face a number of serious problems including forced sales, forfeitures, and evictions.
By: TruState - Estate Administration
Estate Administration Services
Estate Administration Services
NEW YORK - Feb. 10, 2022 - PRLog -- What is Heirs' Property?

Heirs' Property
is term that refers to a home or land that passes from generation to generation, without a will, often over generations. This land frequently ends up being owned by an exponential number of remote descendants, each having fractional interests in the land, all without clear title. There is no clear title because no estate administration work has ever been done to ensure that the rightful owners, i.e. the next generation, have legal title to the land.

Without clear title, these descendant landowners face a number of serious problems including forced sales, forfeitures, and evictions.

The Mechanics of Heirs' Property.

Each heir has an equal degree of ownership. This means that each heir has an equal right to full use (for instance, if there are 75 heirs with each owning 1/75th of the home, all 75 will have the right to live in the home). The heir who pays the taxes and lives on the property does NOT have superior ownership to the others.

Each heir may freely transfer his or her interest in the land to another co-owner, or, to a third party unrelated to the family. In many cases, once a third party with means becomes a co-owner (for example, a real estate developer, has bought even a tiny fractional interest in in the land from one of the more loosely connected heirs), they can petition the court to bring about a partition and force a sale, through the courts, of the entire plot, often at well below fair market value. At this juncture, the cost barrier for the remaining heirs to properly administer the estates of their ancestor owners to clear title is simply too great, and the land is lost.

Four Reasons Heirs' Property is a Major Problem:
  1. Heirs' Property disproportionately affects Black Americans.  
  2. Heirs' Property limits a family's ability to pass wealth down from generation to generation.
  3. Heirs' Property hampers the efforts of descendants to revitalize properties to build familial wealth.
  4. Heirs' Property limits the ability of its occupants to receive government disaster relief or participate in land improvement programs.

New Developments and Solutions on the Horizon.
Families with heirs' property can now receive a "farm number" through the FSA in order to access certain USDA programs.

Prior to 2018, when the 2018 Farm Bill passed, it was impossible for owners of heirs' property to obtain a farm number through the USDA. A farm number is required to be eligible for many different USDA programs, including lending, disaster relief programs, and participation in county committees.
Families with heirs' property can now access capital to clear title and/or buy out other fractional heirs.

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