Heirs Property Defined
Heir(s) (pronounced /eər) 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.
Some of the implications of Heirs property are:
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 is ineligible for federal assistance, like USDA farm aide or FEMA support after a natural disaster;
Most potential tenants, logging companies, or other people who would like to do business with the property will refrain because of the title and ownership issues;
Heirs are reluctant to make repairs or improvements to 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 loss
Over time, as each generation passes, the ownership of the property becomes more and more entangled because of the number of heirs. There are currently over 125 heirs with interests in the Hicks estate. As the years pass, the number will continue to increase because of the lack of proper legal action on the part of the heirs.
Typically in cases like this, it is determined the property isn’t worthwhile for any one heir to be concerned, pay the property taxes or do anything that would costs money because the group of heirs either aren’t aware, they’re unknown or they simply cannot agree on any decisions pertaining to the property. At that point, the property is usually auctioned off for outstanding taxes. The new owner acquires the property for less than fair market value and the heirs receive none of the proceeds.
Heirs' Property Challenges Families, States
Support for the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act
Article originally Issued by the New York City Bar May 2019; Updated and Reissued June 2019
How cities can help heirs’ property owners
Article issued by the Municipal Association Of South Carolina