College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences

Heirs Property Program

What is “heirs property?”

Heirs property is land passed down through a family, often over multiple generations and to numerous descendants, without the use of wills or determination by probate courts. Heirs of the original owner can possess and use the property with equal claim regardless of the size of their factional title interest in the land. But without proper documentation or clear title, owners can’t sell the property, borrow against it or qualify for federal farm loans or disaster relief. These complications can strain family relationships and make farmland vulnerable to partition and sale — often at below-market prices — and removed from farm and forest use. Because Black landowners disproportionately hold it, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has called heirs property the leading cause of Black involuntary land loss. In North Carolina, the value of land owned as heirs property is estimated at nearly $1.9 billion (Conservation Trust for North Carolina, 2023). Although no one is immune to the vulnerability of losing their land to a forced partition action, this issue disproportionately impacts Black, Indigenous, and People of Color throughout North Carolina. This platform will help navigate and continue to seek innovative solutions to address these issues at the community level in North Carolina.

Estimated Total Acres of Heirs Property

State
Identified Properties
Acres Sum
Total Market Value
(2019 Dollars)
State:  
Alabama
Identified Properties:  
41,218
Acres Sum:  
486,674.60
Total Market Value:  
2,947,571,329
State:  
Florida
Identified Properties:  
62,012
Acres Sum:  
188,166.37
Total Market Value:  
5,207,269,458
State:  
Georgia
Identified Properties:  
39,430
Acres Sum:  
480,610.22
Total Market Value:  
3,826,323,840
State:  
Kentucky
Identified Properties:  
21,482
Acres Sum:  
552,819.57
Total Market Value:  
1,004,878,195
State:  
Louisiana
Identified Properties:  
34,197
Acres Sum:  
511,227.93
Total Market Value:  
964,061,998
State:  
Mississippi
Identified Properties:  
45,574
Acres Sum:  
760,470.46
Total Market Value:  
1,240,342,106
State:  
North Carolina
Identified Properties:  
88,339
Acres Sum:  
537,224.32
Total Market Value:  
8,847,215,298
State:  
South Carolina
Identified Properties:  
41,584
Acres Sum:  
414,784.00
Total Market Value:  
3,042,757,968
State:  
Tennessee
Identified Properties:  
43,512
Acres Sum:  
516,957.78
Total Market Value:  
5,515,654,399
State:  
Virginia
Identified Properties:  
55,404
Acres Sum:  
513,214.94
Total Market Value:  
8,086,128,465
State:  
West Virginia
Identified Properties:  
24,242
Acres Sum:  
366,233.01
Total Market Value:  
1,192,175,296
Total
Identified Properties:  
496,994
Acres Sum:  
5,308,374
Total Market Value:  
41,874,378,352
Source: Adopted from ‘Identifying Heirs’ Property: Extent and Value Across the South and Appalachia; by Ryan Thomson and Conner Bailey (Auburn University)

Who are we?

North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University has joined with NC State University to lead a statewide effort to increase knowledge about heirs property. This platform will provide educational training, outreach, materials and resources, regarding heirs property issues, to help property owners protect and preserve land in North Carolina that their families have held for generations.

The project is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture - Risk Management Agency (USDA-RMA) through Alcorn University and Southern Rural Development Center.

Project Team

  • Biswanath Dari, Ph.D., assistant professor and natural resource specialist at Cooperative Extension at N.C. A&T (project lead)
  • Kurt W. Smith, Ph.D., assistant professor and Cooperative Extension specialist – forestry at NC State Extension;
  • Noah Ranells, Ph.D., NC Farm Link Director, Eastern Region, NC State Extension;
  • Robert Andrew Branan, J.D., associate professor of resource economics, NC State Extension; Agricultural and Environmental Law Specialist resource economics.

Meet the Project Partners

Heirs property owners are especially vulnerable to losing their land because they are subject to partition actions to physically divide or sell the land (Francine Miller, 2022; Center for Agriculture and Food Systems). This project marks the first time that N.C. A&T and NC State University — North Carolina’s two land-grant universities — have collaborated on a project to educate the public about heirs property.

Biswanath Dari, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor and Agriculture and Natural Resource Specialist with Cooperative Extension at N.C. A&T.

"Heirs property is a very critical issue especially in North Carolina. There are many people that are not aware they have heirs' property issues. They do not know there are steps they can take and legal pathways that can help them to resolve the long-term history of heirs issues. We build this website to bring those useful resources as a one-stop-hub that are available and people can use to secure their property from heirs issues in North Carolina.”

Kurt Smith, Ph.D., Extension specialist in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources at NC State University, noted that fragmentation of existing farm and forest parcels has become a serious threat to North Carolina’s $103 billion agricultural economy.

"North Carolina is projected to lose 1.1 million acres through development by the year 2040, second in the nation for lost agricultural land,“ Smith said. “We should be doing all we can to help property owners keep their land. Heirs property represents the most vulnerable form of land ownership out there. We are grateful that A&T is helping lead the way in working on this challenging issue."

Noah Ranells, Ph.D., works with the NC FarmLink program of NC State Cooperative Extension and services NC State and N.C. A&T agents and staff at all NC Cooperative Extension County Centers. The NC FarmLink website has information and resources on farmland ownership, succession, and tenure, and offers clients a no cost farmland matching database to connect farm seekers and landowners.

"While heirs property poses significant challenges to maintaining cultural and family heritage in the form of land, it also represents 'frozen capital' which can often prevent heirs from using the property to leverage starting and growing other business and personal projects, including purchasing additional farmland,” he said.

Robert Andrew Branan, JD, is an Associate Professor and Cooperative Extension Legal Specialist with the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at NC State. His practice, research and education efforts concentrate on land use and disposition matters related to lands in agricultural, forest and ecosystem service production.
“Resolving fractional title to avoid partition and sale in heirs property cases can be a lengthy and resource intensive process, involving a multitude of human, financial and legal variables. It is our hope that these programs will provide decision support to families committed to the project of retaining their interests in - and productive use of - ancestral lands.”

What We Provide

Five full-day, in-person summits and hands-on workshops will cover the origin and history of heirs property, inform participants about estate planning and legal strategies to secure their land, and connect them with resources and other technical assistance including some potential opportunities to listen from a group of a panel who are dealing with heir’s issues or dealt with earlier. Using an heirs property curriculum developed by Alcorn State University and SRDC in Mississippi, and utilizing the resources obtained through Train-the-trainer training by HPP project partners we are committed to delivering these educational training and materials for North Carolinians. 

Our team members will provide in-person, hands-on and practical workshops and trainings in different locations of North Carolina to increase our ‘Understanding Heirs' Property at the Community Level in North Carolina’. The tentative schedule for those Summits and Workshops are ops provided below which may subject to change as per the situation:

Summit Schedule

Dates
County
Covering Counties
Time
Registration
Date:  
Jan 31, 2024
County:  
Guilford
Covering Counties:  
Guilford & surrounding counties
Time:  
9 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Registration:  
Event Completed
Date:  
Feb.7, 2024
County:  
Stokes
Covering Counties:  
Stokes & surrounding counties
Time:  
9 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Registration:  
Event Completed
Date:  
March 6, 2024
County:  
Halifax
Covering Counties:  
Halifax & surroundings
Time:  
9 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Registration:  
Register
Date:  
April 10, 2024
County:  
Caswell
Covering Counties:  
Caswell & surroundings
Time:  
9 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Registration:  
Register
Date:  
May 8, 2024
County:  
Robeson
Covering Counties:  
Robeson, Columbus, Bladen, Sampson
Time:  
9 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Registration:  
Register
Date:  
July 17, 2024
County:  
Union
Covering Counties:  
Union, Anson, Stanley
Time:  
9 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Registration:  
Register

Agenda for Each Summit

Times
Event
Time:  
9 - 9:10 a.m.
Event:  
Introductions
Time:  
9:15 - 10:30 a.m.
Event:  
Overview of Heirs Property
Time:  
10:30 - 10:45 a.m.
Event:  
15-minute Break
Time:  
10:45 - 12 p.m.
Event:  
Heirs Property Prevention
Time:  
12 - 1:15 p.m.
Event:  
Lunch and Panel with Farmers
Time:  
1 - 2:15 p.m.
Event:  
Heirs Resolution
Time:  
2:15 - 2:30 p.m.
Event:  
Wrap-up discussion/Q&A
Time:  
2:30 - 3 p.m.
Event:  
Evaluation
All summits are free and lunch will be provided.

For more information

Please contact any of the following:

 

Heirs Property Resources

Short videos highlighting some of the issues around heirs property in NC will be available here. Check back at this site in Feb., 2024.