Heirs' Property

What is heirs' property?

The USDA defines heirs’ property as land that has been passed down informally from generation-to-generation. In most cases, it involves landowners who died without a will. Heirs’ property is land owned “in common” by all of the heirs, regardless of whether they live on the land, pay the taxes, or have ever set foot on the land.

Geographic areas heavily impacted:

  • Appalachia
  • Colonias of South Texas
  • Mississippi River Delta Region
  • Native American Tribal Lands
  • Southern Cresent Region (Blackbelt Region)


SRDC Heirs' Property Report & Narrative



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Barlow, B. and Bailey, C. (2017). The potential impact of heir property on timber management in the southern United States. Professional Agricultural Workers Journal 5(1), 5-13. Retrieved from https://tuspubs.tuskegee.edu/pawj/vol5/iss1/3

Dyer, J. F. (2007). Legal and cultural dimensions of land ownership. Bulletin 667. Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station, Auburn University. Retrieved from https://aurora.auburn.edu/bitstream/handle/11200/4107/BULL0667.pdf?sequence=1

Dyer, J. F., & Bailey, C. (2008). A place to call home: Cultural understandings of Heir Property among rural African Americans. Rural Sociology, 73(3), 317-338. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1526/003601108785766598

Dyer, J.F. (2008). Statutory impacts of heir property: An examination of Appellate and Macon County court cases. 66th Annual Professional Agricultural Workers Conference. Retrieved from: http://www.southerncoalition.org/hprc/sites/default/files/Dyer%20Macon%20study.pdf

Dyer, J. F. ,Crayton, E.F, Kennealy, P. (2008). Heir Property in Alabama. Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Auburn, University. HE-852. Retrieved from https://store.aces.edu/ItemDetail.aspx?ProductID=13396

Dyer, J. F., Bailey, C., & Tran, N.T. (2009). Ownership characteristics of Heir Property in a Black Belt county: A quantitative approach. Southern Rural Sociology, 24(2), 192-217. Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/18479177/OWNERSHIP_CHARACTERISTICS_OF_HEIR_PROPERTY_IN_A_BLACK_BELT_COUNTY_A_QUANTITATIVE_APPROACH

Fleming, R., Williams, J., Neubauer, R., and Schiavinato, L. (2016). Splitting heirs: The challenges posed by the Heirs' Property ownership to coastal resilience planning. Sea Grant North Carolina. Available online: https://ncseagrant.ncsu.edu/ncseagrant_docs/coastallaw/pubs/heirs_property.pdf

Grabbatin, B. and Stephens, J.L. (2011). Wigfall v. Mobley et al.: Heirs property rights in family and in law. disClosure: A Journal of Social Theory, 20(14), 133-150. Retrieved from https://uknowledge.uky.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=1040&context=disclosure

Grabbatin, B. (2016). “The land is our family and the water is our bloodline”: The dispossession and preservation of Heirs’ Property in the Gullah-Geechee communities of Lowcountry South Carolina. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from UKnowledge (University of Kentucky). https://uknowledge.uky.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1050&context=geography_etds

Mitchell, T.W. (2001). From reconstruction to deconstruction: Undermining Black landownership, political independence, and community through partition sales of tenancies in common. Northwestern University Law Review, 95, 505-580. Retrieved from https://ssrn.com/abstract=1544380

Mitchell, T.W. (2014). Reforming property law to address devastating land loss. 66 Alabama Law Review 1, Univ. of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1329. Retrieved from https://ssrn.com/abstract=2516275

Vinston, C. (2017). Georgia’s heirs property: Assessing the impacts of “locked wealth. Retrieved from: https://www.fcs.uga.edu/docs/GICH_Heirs_Property_Prezi_2.pdf

Research - Non-Land-Grant

Madoshi, L. (2014). The development of trust African Americans and the US government. McNair Scholars Journal, 15/12-13, 69-85. Retrieved from http://www.csus.edu/mcnair/_all-scholars-articles-photos-webpage/14_2012_2013/jounal_2012-13/liku-madoshi-mcnairjournal15-2013-14_single-page.pdf

Schaeffer, M. (2014). The social meaning of inherited financial assets. Moral ambivalences of intergenerational transfers. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung, 15(1), 1. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/24146122

Uniform Law Commission. (2014). The partition of Heirs’ Property Act. Retrieved from http://uniformlaws.org/Act.aspx?title=Partition%20of%20Heirs%20Property%20Act

Breitenbach, S. (2015, July 15). Heirs' property challenges families, states. [Blog post] Retrieved from http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2015/07/15/heirs-property-challenges-families-states

Leon County. (2015, December 8). D-1 Application for subdivision pursuant to the family heir provision of policy 2.1.9 of the Tallahassee/Leon County comprehensive plan. Retrieved from http://www.leoncountyfl.gov/growth/Permits/forms/219FH_IA.pdf

United States Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency. (2015). What you need to know about heir property. Retrieved from https://www.fsa.usda.gov/Internet/FSA_File/whatyouneedtoknowheirproperty.pdf

Carpenter, A., Jones, S., & Pippin, S. (2016). Understanding heirs' properties in the Southeast. Retrieved from https://frbatlanta.org

Johnson Gaither, C. (2016). “Have not our weary feet come to the place for which our fathers sighed?”: Heirs’ property in the southern United States. e-Gen. Tech. Rep. SRS-216. Asheville, NC: U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Southern Research Station. 31 p. Available online: https://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/pubs/gtr/gtr_srs216.pdf

McDaniel, J. (2016, February 11). Project attempts to stem the tide of African-American land loss through active forest management. Leaves of Change. Retrieved from https://leavesofchangeweekly.org/2016/02/17/leaves-of-change-issue-20-project-attempts-to-stem-the-tide-of-african-american-land-loss-through-active-forest-management/

Mitchell, T.W. (2016). Restoring hope for heirs property owners: The Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act. State & Local Law News,40(1), 6-15. Retrieved from https://scholarship.law.tamu.edu/facscholar/805/

National Conference on Uniform State Laws. (2016). Partition of Heirs’ Property Act. Retrieved from http://uniformlaws.org/Act.aspx?title=Partition%20of%20Heirs%20Property%20Act

Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. (2017, July 6) Special edition podcast: Heirs Property. [Podcast]. Economy Matter Podcast. Retrieved from https://www.frbatlanta.org/podcasts/transcripts/economy-matters/170706-heirs-property.aspx

Hitchner, S., Schelhas, J., and Johnson Gaither C. (2017). African American forest landowners, Heirs’ Property in the Southeastern U.S.: Challenges and opportunities for small-scale sustainable forest management. Alternate title: “A privilege and a challenge”: Valuation of Heirs’ Property by African American landowners and implications for forest management in the Southeastern U.S., Small Scale Forestry 16(3):395-417 Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11842-017-9362-5

Johnson Gaither, C. (2017). Heirs’ property and housing vulnerability. U.S. Forest Service. Retrieved from https://www.frbatlanta.org/-/media/documents/news/conferences/2017/0615-heirs-property-in-the-south/cassandra-gaither.pdf

Johnson Gaither, C. (2017). Spatial dimensions of Heirs’ Property in Maverick County, TX. Southeastern Geographer, 57(4), 371-387 Retrieved from https://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/pubs/ja/2017/ja_2017_johnson_002.pdf

Johnson Gaither, C. and Zarnoch, S.J. (2017). Unearthing ‘Dead Capital’: Heirs’ Property prediction in two U.S. Southern counties. Land Use Policy 67:367-377. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.landusepol.2017.05.009

Lang, B. (2017, Summer). Clearing the heir: Problems with Heir Property. Treasured Forest Magazine. 13-15. Retrieved from http://forestry.alabama.gov/Publications/TREASURED_Forest_Magazine/2017_Summer/Clearing_the_Heir_Problems_with_Heir_Property.pdf

Pippin, J. S., Jones, S., Johnson Gaither, C. (2017). Identifying potential heirs properties in the southeastern United States: A new GIS methodology utilizing mass appraisal data. (e-General Technical Report SRS-225). Asheville, NC: U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Southern Research Station. Retrieved from https://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/pubs/55263

Roberts, A. R. 2017. Documenting and preserving Texas freedom colonies. Texas Heritage (2), 14-19. https://www.academia.edu/33690477/Documenting_and_Preserving_Texas_Freedom_Colonies

Thompson, S. (2017). Contextual meaning given to the family heir property title clearing process. (Doctoral dissertation). Creighton University, Ann Arbor. MI: ProQuest, Retrieved from http://famuproxy.fcla.edu/login?URL=?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1970381338?accountid=10913

Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Land Assistance Fund. (2018, June 21). The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/LAF leads research and advocacy to address heirs property and eligibility to participate in USDA programs [Press release]. Retrieved from https://www.ruralco.org/2018/08/02/federation-of-southern-coops-leads-research-and-advocacy-on-heirs-property/

Kuris,G. (2018). A huge problem in plain site: Untangling heirs’ property rights in the American South, 2001-2017. Retrieved from https://successfulsocieties.princeton.edu/sites/successfulsocieties/files/GK_LAND_United%20States_HeirsProperty.pdf

Louisiana Appleseed. (2018). Enabling owners of Heir Property to clear title, preserve wealth, and recover from disasters. [Projects archives] Retrieved from: https://louisianaappleseed.org/projects/

Rural Coalition. (2018, June 22). The Fair Access for Farmers and Ranchers Act introduced today helps producers operating on heirs property. [Press release]. Retrieved from https://www.ruralco.org/2018/06/22/1347/

Darity, W. (2008). Forty acres and a mule in the 21st century. Social Science Quarterly, 89(3), 656-664. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1540-6237.2008.00555.x

Dickel, C., T. & Ishii-Jordan, S. R. (2008). Implementing Jesuit charisms and core values in distance education. Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry and Practice, 11(3), 385-398. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1005812

Riphagen, L. (2008). Marginalization of African-Americans in the social sphere of US society. The Interdisciplinary Journal of International Studies. 5, 96-121. https://journals.aau.dk/index.php/ijis/article/download/174/114

Deaton, B. J., Baxter, J., & Bratt, C. S. (2009). Examining the consequences and character of "heir property" [Abstract]. Ecological Economics, 68(8-9). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921800909001177

Hamilton, D. (2009, August). Race, wealth, and intergenerational poverty. The American Prospect, 20(7). Retrieved from http://prospect.org/article/race-wealth-and-intergenerational-poverty

Hartep, N. D. (2009). Critical race theory: An examination of its past, present, and future implications. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED506735

Heirs’ Property Retention Coalition. (2009a). Preserving your property: A guide to Heirs’ Property in North Carolina. Retrieved from http://www.southerncoalition.org/hprc/sites/default/files/NCheirspprop.pdf

Norejko, R. (2009, January). From metes and bounds to grids or a Cliff's Notes history of landownership in the United States. Fair & Equitable. Retrieved from https://www.iaao.org/uploads/norejko.pdf

Persky, A. S. (2009). In the cross-heirs. American Bar Association Journal, 44. Retrieved from http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/in_the_cross-heirs

Southern Coalition for Social Justice (2009). Preserving your property: A guide to heirs’ property in North Carolina. Retrieved from http://www.southerncoalition.org/hprc/sites/default/files/NCheirspprop.pdf

Way, H. (2009). Informal homeownership in the United States and the law. St. Louis University Public Law Review, 29(1), 113-192. Retrieved from https://law.utexas.edu/faculty/hway/informal-homeownership.pdf

Younkins, E. (2010, April 5). Private property rights: The moral and economic foundation of a free society. Liberty Free Press. Retrieved from http://www.quebecoislibre.org/younkins5.html

Baab, C. H. (2011). Heir property: A constraint for planners, an opportunity for communities. Planning & Environmental Law, 63(11), 3-11. Retrieved from http://southerncoalition.org/hprc/sites/default/files/Heirs'%20property%20and%20planning_0.pdf

Johnson Gaither, C., Poudhal, N.C., Goodrick, S., Bowker, J.M., Malone, S., and Gan, J. (2011). Wildland fire risk and social vulnerability in the southeastern United States: An exploratory spatial data analysis approach. Forest Policy and Economics, 13, 24-36. Retrieved from https://www.colorado.edu/geography/leyk/GIS1/Readings/Gaither_etal_2011.pdf

Bartles, C. T. (2012). Identifying and addressing heirs property: A case study of Wake County, North Carolina. (Master’s thesis) Retrieved from https://cdr.lib.unc.edu/record/uuid:fde72021-1b3b-41da-8aba-ba95150d2ad3

Deaton, B.J., (2012). A review and assessment of the heirs' property issue in the United States. Journal of Economic Issues, 46(3), 615-632. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.2753/JEI0021-3624460302

DeWeese, T. (2012, November 1). Private property is the only way to eradicate poverty. American Policy Center. Retrieved from https://americanpolicy.org/2012/11/19/private-property-ownership-is-the-only-way-to-eradicate-poverty/

Nembhard, J. G., & Otabor, C. (2012). The Great Recession and land and housing loss in African American communities: Case studies from Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi, part 2: Heirs’ Property. Center on Race and Wealth, Howard University (Working Paper). Retrieved from http://raceandwealth.coas.howard.edu/reports&publications/0712-great-recession-and-land-housing-loss-in-african-american-communities-part2.pdf

Orelus, P. W. (2012). Being Black and Brown in the 21st century: Challenges and pedagogical possibilities. SAGE Open, 2(4), Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2158244012464979

Smith, L. H., Valenzuela, J., & Ludke, R. L. (2012). Engaging rural and urban Appalachians in research using a community-based participatory research approach. PRISM: A Journal of Regional Engagement, 1(1), 1-17. Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/8982698/Engaging_Rural_and_Urban_Appalachians_in_Research_using_a_Community-Based_Participatory_Research_Approach

Ward, P., Way, H., and Wood, L. (2012). The contract for deed prevalence project. (Final report) Austin, TX: Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. Retrieved from http://www.tdhca.state.tx.us/housing-center/docs/CFD-Prevalence-Project.pdf

Georgia Appleseed. (2013). Unlocking heir property ownership: Assessing the impact on low and mid-income Georgians and their communities. Atlanta, GA: Georgia Appleseed Center for Law & Justice. Retrieved from https://gaappleseed.org/media/docs/unlocking-heir-property.pdf

Way, H., and Wood, L. (2013). Contracts for deed: Charting risks and new paths for advocacy. Clearinghouse Review: Journal of Poverty Law and Policy. 47(7/8), 286-294. Retrieved from http://povertylaw.org/clearinghouse/articles/contracts-deed-charting-risks-and-new-paths-advocacy

Gilbert, J., Sharp, G. (2002). The loss and persistence of Black-owned farms and farmland: A review of the research literature and its implications. Southern Rural Sociology, 18(2), 1-30. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download;jsessionid=17AD0559AC63423525F4AA60FAE77D7D?doi=

Shepard, P. M., Northridge, M. E., Prakash, S., & Stover, G. (Ed.) (2002). Preface: Advancing environmental justice through community-based participatory research. Environmental Justice, 110(2), 139-140. Retrieved from https://www.weact.org/publications/advancing-environmental-justice-through-community-based-participatory-research/

Shoemaker, J. A. (2003). Like snow in the spring time: Allotment, fractionation, and the Indian land tenure problem. Wisconsin Law Review, 2003(4), 729-788. Retrieved from https://ssrn.com/abstract=2430811

Wimberley, R.C., and Morris, L. (2003). U.S. poverty in space and time: Its persistence in the South. The North Carolina Sociological Association, (2)3. Retrieved from http://www.ncsociology.org/sociationtoday/v2/wimmor.htm

Foster, G. A. (2004). American slavery: The complete story. Cardozo Public Law, Policy and Ethics Journal, 2, pp. 401-420. Retrieved from http://www.cplpej.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Foster-Gerald.pdf

Thomas, M., Pennick, J., and Gray, H. (2004). What is African-American land ownership? Federation of Southern Cooperatives Land Assistance Fund. Retrieved from http://www.federationsoutherncoop.com

Waldron, J. (2004). Property and ownership. In the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/property/

Chandler, A. B. (2005). "The loss in my bones": Protecting African American Heirs' Property with the public use doctrine. William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal, 14(1). Retrieved from http://scholarship.law.wm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1212&context=wmborj

Copeland, R. W. (2005). Heir property in the African American community: From promised lands to problem lands, 2(2). Professional Agricultural Workers Journal. Retrieved from http://tuspubs.tuskegee.edu/pawj/vol2/iss2/2

Deaton, B.J. (2005). Land “In Heirs”: Building a hypothesis concerning tenancy in common and the persistence of poverty in central Appalachia. Journal of Appalachian Studies, 11(1/2), 83-94. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/41446656

Mitchell, T. W. (2005). Destabilizing the normalization of rural Black land loss: A Critical Role for legal empiricism. Wisconsin Law Review, 2005(2), 557-615. Retrieved from https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=896759

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Deaton, B.J. (2007). Intestate succession and Heir Property: Implications for future research on the persistence of poverty in central Appalachia. Journal of Economic Issues, 41(4), 927-942. Retrieved from http://www.southerncoalition.org/hprc/sites/default/files/Deaton%20Appalachia%20study.pdf

Dorr, T. C. (2007). Heir Property. Federal Register. Retrieved from https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2007/01/10/E6-22102/heir-property

Dubois, W. E. B. (1901). The Freedmen’s Bureau, Atlantic Monthly, 87, 354-365. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/01mar/dubois.htm

The Emergency Land Fund. (1980). The impact of heir property on Black rural land tenure in the southeastern region of the United States. Retrieved from https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924067935720;view=1up;seq=2

Brooks, J. F. (1983). Black farmers and rural heir property owners: Public policy response. Increasing Understanding of Public Problems and Policies. (77-83) Retrieved from http://ageconsearch.umn.edu/bitstream/17675/1/ar830076.pdf

Copeland, R. W. (1984). The rise and fall of Black real property ownership: A review of Black land ownership from the rough beginnings to the great grains; Dispossession via the use of legal tactics and the push for black land retention. The National Black Law Journal. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/2nj5h4p8

Gilman, R. (1984, Winter). The idea of owning land: An old notion forged by the sword is quietly undergoing a profound transformation. Retrieved from https://www.context.org/iclib/ic08/gilman1/

Craig-Taylor, P. (2000). Through a colored looking glass: A view of judicial partition, family land loss, and rule setting. Washington University Law Review, 78(3). Retrieved from https://openscholarship.wustl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.bing.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1449&context=law_lawreview

Solorzano, D. G., Ceja, M. & Yosso, T. (2000). Critical race theory, racial microaggressions, and campus racial climate: The experiences of African American college students. Journal of Negro Education, 69/1-2, 60-73. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/2696265.pdf

Appleseed Foundation. (n.d.) Heir Property: Education, advocacy, reform. Retrieved from http://www.appleseednetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Heir-Property_Executive-Summary.pdf

Center for Heirs' Property Preservation: http://www.heirsproperty.org/; http://www.heirsproperty.org/what-we-do/what-we-do-for-heirs-property-owners

City of Thomasville, GA. (n.d.) Heir Property & cloudy titles: A community perspective. [Powerpoint]. Retrieved from https://www.fcs.uga.edu/docs/HeirPropertyThomasville-CharlotteChristian.pdf

De Soto, H. The mystery of capital. Why capitalism trumps in the West and fails everywhere else. Retrieved from https://yendieu.files.wordpress.com/2009/04/the-mystery-of-capital.pdf

Heirs’ Property Retention Coalition. (n.d.). What is Heirs’ Property? Retrieved from http://www.southerncoalition.org/hprc/?q=node/5