Cooperative Extension at A&T to Lead Heirs Property Summits for Landowners

11/17/2023 College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences

Lisa Hinton, a participant in Cooperative Extension at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University’s Small Farms Leadership 360 Initiative, has land that has been in her family for more than 100 years. Other farmers of color are not so fortunate; heirs property is one of the leading causes of agricultural land loss In North Carolina and of Black involuntary land loss in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (Nov. 16, 2023) – Cooperative Extension at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University will lead a new effort to help property owners protect and preserve land in North Carolina that their families have held for generations.

Heirs property is land passed down through a family, often over multiple generations and to numerous descendants, without the use of wills or probate courts.

Heirs of the original owner can use the property and claim joint ownership of 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 being sold — often at below-market prices — and developed. Because it is disproportionately held by Black landowners, 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. 

“Heirs property is a very critical issue in North Carolina,” said Biswanath Dari, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the university’s College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences and agriculture and natural resource specialist with Cooperative Extension at N.C. A&T. “Too many people are not aware they have heirs property issues. They do not know there are legal pathways and useful resources available to secure their property. This project will bring these resources to those who need them.”

Dari is the principal investigator (PI) on the project, “Understanding Heirs’ Property at the Community Level in North Carolina.” In collaboration with North Carolina State University, this project aims to identify and educate heirs property owners across the state.

Using an heirs property curriculum developed by Alcorn State University in Mississippi, these full-day summits will cover the history of heirs property, inform participants about estate planning and legal strategies to secure their land and provide other technical assistance. The summits also will feature a panel discussion among landowners who are or have previously dealt with heirs property issues.

Property summits have been tentatively scheduled for Jan. 31 at the Farm Pavilion at the N.C. A&T University Farm, 3020 McConnell Road; Feb. 1 in Stokes County; March 6 in Halifax County; April 10 in Caswell County; May 8 in Robeson County; and July 17 in Union County.

The project also will develop a website to serve as an heirs property resource and produce professionally-produced videos to help people understand heirs property issues and available resources.

The project is being funded by a $150,000 USDA Risk Management Agency grant. The three co-PIs, affiliated with N.C. State, are: Kurt W. Smith, Ph.D., assistant professor and extension specialist of forestry; Noah Ranells, Ph.D., N.C. FarmLink director, Eastern Region; and Robert Andrew Branan, J.D., associate extension professor of resource economics and agricultural and environmental law specialist.

This project marks the first time A&T and N.C. State — North Carolina’s two land-grant universities — have collaborated on a project to educate the public about heirs property.

Mark Blevins, Ed.D., assistant extension administrator for agriculture and natural resources with Cooperative Extension at N.C. A&T, said Dari’s project will help connect landowners with helpful resources and with other heirs so property can be protected.

“These intensive, hands-on training sessions will provide valuable materials and guidance that will help North Carolinians avoid involuntary property loss and protect and preserve their family land for generations to come,” said Blevins, who co-directs N.C. A&T’s Small Farms Resource and Innovation Center. “Resolving property issues means hard work, but it can be done, and this generation is the best time to get it done.” 

There’s no charge to attend a summit. Lunch will be provided. For more information, email Biswanath Dari at bdari@ncat.edu.

For more information about heirs property and to register for January’s summit, visit A&T's Heirs Property Program page.

Media Contact Information: llbernhardt@ncat.edu

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