Yesterday, we were made aware of the fact that African American families have historically used real estate as a way to build wealth, or otherwise preserve and pass down their family legacies/heritage. We were introduced to the concept of heirs’ property, as one of five key factors in the real estate world that prevents African American families from preserving & passing down their legacies.
Today’s black history moment is a deeper look on the subject of heirs’ property, referencing a current-day example of two brothers from North Carolina (Melvin Davis and Licurtis Reels).
What is heirs’ property?
* Defined as “a home or parcel of land that passes from generation to generation without a legally designated owner, resulting in (property) ownership divided among all living descendants in a family.”
When is heirs’ property created?
* In general, original property owner dies with a will – property is then passed down to multiple family members
* In general, original property owner dies without a will – property is then passed down to heirs-at-law (according to state law)
Why heirs’ property so often impacts African American families?
* Historic mistrust and lack of knowledge about the legal system concerning real estate law
* Lack of knowledge about/lack of access to estate planning resources
* Lack of a unified or shared vision among family members concerning family-owned real estate
Impacts/significance of heirs’ property to African American families?
* Unable to sell/refinance property without agreement from all heirs
* Increased risk of a forced sale by one or more heirs (partition sale)
* Greater risk of property abandonment or property loss (foreclosure)
* Loss of connection to family/community history
* Risk of permanent ruin of family relationships
In closing, the websites below show the devastating impact of heirs’ property on African American family members like Melvin and Licurtis, and a useful resource to prevent land/property loss going forward:
Article: “Brothers Jailed for Eight Years for Refusing to Leave Their Land”
ABC11 News (March 1, 2019): “Keeping it Reels: Brothers Out of Jail After 8 Years Vow to Keep Fighting for Family Land”
Howard University & New America: “The Biggest Problem You’ve Never Heard Of – Examining Heirs Property & Black Property Loss” (video included)
ProPublica article: “How to Close Heirs’ Property Loopholes”