Heirs property issues serve as a daunting challenge to not only family harmony but important property rights as well. Generally, heirs property is a term used to describe land that is jointly owned by descendants of a deceased person.
A recurring family story told by many perspective clients should shed some lights on this matter. Grandpa dies and leaves the entire 4-acre family farm to Grandma. A year later, Grandma dies without a will, and the property is passed to her heirs. Grandma and Grandpa have 8 living adult children, so each child takes a 1/8 interest in the family farm, and Grandma's estate is closed by the probate court. This property is now what is considered 'heirs property'.
While the preceding example seems innocent, a few important questions remained unanswered:
Who pays the property taxes on the family farm in our example?
Who is allowed to live on the family farm?
Who is responsible for maintaining the family farm?
These types of questions magnify the problems associated with heirs property, and unfortunately, these problems multiply as the heirs die and pass their interest to their children and other heirs. A family farm once so capably owned by Grandma and Grandpa is now owned by a growing group of children, grandchildren, and other heirs.
Many clients are unable to overcome the challenges posed by heirs property. Families are unable to agree on the responsibilities on the payment of taxes, so the property is lost at tax sale. Current owners are unwilling to improve or maintain the property due to their fractional interest in the property, so the property becomes dilapidated. Potential investors, tenants, timber companies, or interested buyers are discouraged by the multiplying owners and generally view the property as an avoidable headache.
The most effective way to prevent many of the problems of heirs property is through detailed estate planning. If the problems are in a more advanced stage, a court proceeding may be an effective tool to resolve the issues. Many pieces of heirs property can be appraised and equitably divided through the use of trained real estate professionals. Another possible option is to sell the property and split the proceeds among the owners.
Please do not hesitate to contact the Finklea Law Firm to discuss your options in greater detail. We work hard to provide our clients with the best service possible.
~ Charlie J. Blake, Jr. (November 2012)