Chamber hears tips on addressing heirs’ property

Published 1:00 pm Thursday, March 16, 2023

On Friday, the Lowndes County Area Chamber of Commerce (LCACOC) hosted a discussion on addressing heir’s property presented by Dr. Ryan Thomson, associate professor with Auburn University’s College of Agriculture Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology.

Thomson defined heirs’ property as real property passed to family members by inheritance, usually without a will or without an estate plan in place. The scenario, Thomson explained, creates circumstances where landowners become vulnerable to land loss.

“The problem with heirs’ property is that it is the most unstable form of property ownership, period,” Thomson said. “It is particularly vulnerable to land loss and involuntary land loss through forced partition sales and tax sales.”

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When property becomes trapped, Thomson said, it is referred to as intestate or a clouded title.

“A clouded title has a lot of drawbacks, but it’s oftentimes targeted for outside theft, essentially legalized theft,” Thomson said. “This targeting is a rapid source of black land loss. Over the last few decades, we’ve seen it only get faster. The title becomes clouded rather than cleared because there are multiple landowners. One person has 1 of 64 shares. Someone else has one quarter, and trying to figure this out is actually a very costly problem.”

Thomson said some heirs’ properties in Lowndes County go back to the early 1900s or the late 1800s, One property on the far west side of Lowndes County reportedly has over 100 co-heirs, he explained.

According to Thomson, properties trapped in this “legal limbo” can not be sold and may only be minimally improved. In essence, he said, heirs often inherit nothing but a tax bill.

“What I find in Alabama is just under half a million acres, roughly 41.2 thousand properties identified at an average value somewhere around $70 thousand,” Thomson said. “That’s $2.9 billion worth of land trapped in Alabama.”

Lowndes County ranks sixth in the state, Thomson said, with 14,000 acres trapped.

“That’s a total of $693 million trapped in land,” Thomson said. “That’s a much lower number of parcels, with only 481 coming up. That means they’re bigger than most places, much bigger compared to state averages.”

Thomson recommended citizens plan ahead to avoid heirs’ properties dilemmas, looking instead to trusts, Limited Liability Corporations, or tenant-in common agreements to protect land for future generations. Thomson also suggested residents establish a strong will and estate plan and noted Legal Services of Alabama may provide legal  assistance with planning for families who qualify.

In other business, chamber members heard news on the success of the First Annual Bloody Sunday Jubilee Celebration Festival held on March 4, which Hubert said was well attended.

“We want to thank each and every one of you for coming out on Saturday to make that event a success,” Hubert said. “Most certainly we are really looking forward to bigger and better things around that event as well as one or two other events we plan to get involved in.”

Hubert said the Chamber is working on plans for a Juneteenth event and looks forward to hosting a program around the holiday.

For more information on heirs’ property, email Thomson at RWT0012@auburn.edu

The next LCACOC meeting will be held at Deepwood Restaurant on April 14 at 8 a.m.