We’ve written in a previous edition about the phenomenon of “heirs property” and how this has played a huge role in depriving Black Americans of their farmland. To recap, heirs property is property that is owned by multiple people who received the land after the owner died without a will. When many people own land, the land is more vulnerable to loss. This is because the law makes it easier to force a sale of heirs property, because joint ownership of land is inherently tricky, and increasingly tricky the more people you have owning the land.
There is a growing movement to reform the laws that make it so easy for families to lose their property that is owned this way. The legal scholar Thomas W. Mitchell, with Texas A&M University, is at the forefront of this movement and a large grant in early October will go a long way to making strides in the heirs property arena.
Legal reform is necessary and we are excited to see important work of Thomas W. Mitchell’s and the non-profit Center for Heirs Property Preservation being awarded with a prestigious MacArthur Genius grant last month. Creating access to wills is another important part of the solution. Without the adequate financial resources, as well as trust of and access to culturally competent attorneys, it’s no wonder that there’s been so much farmland lost due to heirs property. This problem can be addressed with robust education that honors the experience of culturally diverse landowners, while also developing a base of affordable attorneys within local communities.
To help alleviate this confusion, Farm Commons is hosting a webinar, Wills & Trusts 101 for Farmers, on November 20. This is a good first step to preventing a problem of farmland loss, by helping farmers create a plan that serves their vision for the future.