North Carolina A&T State University Mounts Effort to Educate Heirs Property Owners

Cooperative Extension at historically Black North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in partnership with North Carolina 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. In North Carolina, the value of land owned as heirs property is estimated at nearly $1.9 billion. 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.

Researchers aim to identify and educate heirs property owners across the state. Using an heirs property curriculum developed by Alcorn State University in Mississippi, 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.

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.

“Heirs property is a very critical issue in North Carolina,” said Biswanath Dari, an assistant professor in the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at North Carolina A&T State University and agriculture and natural resource specialist with the university’s Cooperative Extension. “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.”

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  1. I’m so glad that this is being done! This education could at least keep future generations from being legally unprepared. Is anyone working on how to go backwards and try to document those who lost land in prior years, either through the heirs in common system or the USDA Department of Agriculture racism in loans? People have so many family stories that it makes me think that somewhere in an old file cabinet are those records. Current family members deserve to be compensated!

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