If you’ve been in the Summerville or Charleston area long enough, you’ve probably heard the phrase “Heir’s Properties“.  Many people, including those living on or with a claim to heir’s property, may not be sure what it means. After the Civil War, many African-Americans purchased or were deeded land around the Lowcountry.  Many of these properties were passed down orally through the years.  If a contract was never drawn up, the true ownership of the land may be in question.

If no will was ever created, the land may be considered heir’s property, or land belonging to the descendants of the original owner. What many people don’t realize is that heir’s property doesn’t belong to the family that lives on or pays taxes on the land, but all heirs, no matter their location.  This realization can certainly create strain and confusion for a family. Some descendants may want to sell their portion of the land while another may desire to live on the property for the rest of their life.  Ownership of such a property is difficult to determine at best, and each generation further complicates the issue.  If an issue like this arises, one heir can possibly force the sale of the entire property if their goal is to sell.  The unstable nature heir’s property creates a terrifying risk to those who wish to remain on the property if other heirs wish to sell.

Heir’s property was originally divided evenly between each of the original owner’s descendants.  With each generation, however, the numbers skew as new heirs are born and older heirs pass away. If one particular family branch has more children, they will own a larger percentage of the property than one with fewer heirs.  This creates additional confusion that must be remedied before a conclusion can be made about ownership.

What Can be Done to Resolve Heir’s Property Issues?

Ideally, all heirs should gather to discuss their preferences regarding the property.  If a decision cannot be reached, litigation is an option.  It is much preferred, however, to mediate and try to find a mutual solution that works for all heirs.  If the lineage of the original landowner is unknown, the family history must be researched to determine each heir and his or her share.

Once the title to the property is “cleared”, the owner is free to build a home or mortgage the property.  A cleared title provides peace of mind that the land will legally belong to the true owners and their heirs for years to come. A title can be cleared by one party’s renunciation of ownership of the property or transfer of their share to another heir.  Transfer of a stake in the property is called a quitclaim.

If you are an owner of heir’s property in the Summerville area and need legal assistance with your heir property claim, Watts Law Firm is here to help. Contact us today to discuss the options you have moving forward.