Heirs’ Property

Last updated on March 2nd, 2022 at 06:59 pm

Learn more about Heirs’ Property from the USDA’s National Agricultural Library and their Forest Service Southern Research Station.

Learn more about the LEAP Coalition at John Deere.

Learn how stress, such as the financial and relationship stress that can be caused by heirs’ property, impacts your health from the National Library of Medicine.

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Created by AgriSafe Network with support from the National Library Of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number UG4LM012345. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.”

Script Arranged by Laura Siegel

Hosted by Carey Portell

Edited by Joel Sharpton

Special Guests: Tharlyn Fox and Veronica McClendon

Transcript
Carey:

Welcome to the Talking Total Farmer Health podcast from AgriSafe Network. At AgriSafe, we work to protect the people that feed the world by supporting the health and safety professionals, ensuring access to preventative services for farm families and the agriculture community. Today's episode is brought to you by the network of the National Libraries of Medicine Region Three.

Carey:

I’m your host, Carey Portell, and today we are going to talk about Heirs’ Property, what it means, and why its relevant. I’m joined by two guests, Veronica McClendon and Tharlyn Fox… Thank you both for joining us today! Now, before we dig in, we should start with some introductions…. Veronica, would you please introduce yourself?

Veronica:

Ok? My name is Veronica McClendon. I am an attorney in Georgia and I have been working on heirs property matters for several years now. I guess we are going on five or six years that I've been working exclusively on what I will say. I will be out since I've been working on heirs property matters. So I started out at a nonprofit called Georgia Heirs Property Law Center, and then from there I went into private practice, where continue working on heirs property matters and also including probate and the estate planning, which helps you to prevent heirs property.

Carey Portell:

Thank you Veronica! Now Tharlyn, would you also please introduce yourself?

Tharlyn:n this role since November of:Carey:

Ok, can you explain what LEAP means?

Tharlyn:ion is actually was formed in:Carey:

That's nice. That's going to bring a lot of information to our audience because this is something that really needs to be on their agenda.

Veronica:

Mm hmm. Right. You know, the biggest thing with this is awareness. I think most people just don't think about it.

Tharlyn:

Absolutely, absolutely. And that's that's what we're hoping and that we're hoping to bring not only awareness, but actually, you know, a call to action to to heirs property.

Carey:

Yeah. Would you explain to us your role in the topic of heirs property?

Tharlyn:

Absolutely. I am again the the manager for the Coalition and the LEAP Organization at John Deere, and our primary function is really to provide our resources for our partners as they work in this lane for heirs property. So my role specifically is really to help to broaden that network for our partnership and to work directly with our partners as they work with families and work with farmers as they go through this journey of clearing title to heirs property.

Carey:

I know when a lot of our audience is going to look at the title of our podcast Heirs property, they're going to have questions about what does that really mean? Can you explain that term for us?

Veronica:

Sure. So heirs property the way I like to define heirs property is property that has been passed down from one generation to the next generation in such a way that with each generation, more and more family members are owning the same piece of property. But there's no legal process taken. There's no legal documents filed to get the property out of the names of multiple family members and into a more finite number of people or single person or single entity.

Carey:

So it can really cause families to get in a pickle if they don't have this all figured out before something happens. they may not agree on what to do with it, or I guess that's kind of like where everything comes about, where families start having trouble afterwards if that original person does not put it in blatant writing.

Tharlyn:

Absolutely. And so it does create a quandary because everyone has equal rights to the land, so it's just very important to have the proper estate planning.

Veronica:

Right, so it's it's the not agreeing, it's the fact that…If you're working with certain professional entities or organizations, they're not going to want to deal with multiple owners of a piece of property, so for example, you go to the bank and you want to get a mortgage, but you want to get a loan and use the property as collateral for that loan. They're not going to want to deal with five owners or 10 owners or a hundred owners even to grant that loan. And so it becomes hard to access funding if you needed financing. It's difficult. If you wanted to sell the property, you have multiple people who have to sign on to that sale. It's difficult if you want to apply for certain programs because it's like who has the right to apply to this program. So it's the disagreement aspect of it, but it's also the practicality of owning and managing property, multiple people owning and managing property. So it's impractical and then it's just it's it's challenging because you can't really point to who has the proper legal rights to this piece of property.

Carey:

Yeah, yeah, sounds like it just becomes a big mess. Now, Tharlyn, could you explain why the history of heirs property has really come to the forefront?

Tharlyn:ur country. And, you know, in:Carey:

I guarantee most of us don't have any clue about the history and how extensive this is.

Tharlyn:

Yeah. And you know, and this is really the leading cause of involuntary land loss for African-Americans. Because as you can imagine, if you don't have proper clear title, you risk losing the land. You have this fractional ownership that one family member can sell a piece of this land. You know, someone can come in and force the courts to sell the entire land for, you know, as they say, pennies on the dollar. So this really does cause a huge issue in many families.

Carey:

We hear farmers talk a lot about leaving a legacy and continuity. Do you know why that is and why is succession so important?

Tharlyn:

Because it's important that you leave a productive legacy for the next generation, because by doing that, you have this land here that is available for you that you can derive an income from. You have this land here that you can leave behind, leave to a designated family member and leave that production for that family member. So when you have this land, you have land here that is clear. The title is clear. You can then use that and facilitate that into viable income for that next generation.

Carey:

Yeah, absolutely. Now here at AgriSafe, we are focused on the health of the people working in agriculture and heirs. Property seems like more of a financial and legal issue. So what is the health impact an issue like heirs property might have on someone?

Tharlyn:

There is a financial impact. If you have clear title, you're able to then use that as collateral. But imagine if you have this land that your heirs property with family members that you can't come to an agreement, you have this heirs property that you're not able to take advantage of the the the capital that you can resolve. This then causes the mental anguish. You're not able to fully capitalize on this, you know, and then you have the just the emotional bond and connection that families have to the land. Some don't want, this may seem strange, some family members don't want to move beyond the heirs property because of the importance of the emotional bonds they have with the ancestors because this was my grandfather's land. I wanted to stay just like it is. I don't want to sell it. I don't want to move. I don't want to do anything with it. So there is a connection and a mental and emotional bond that families have with it outside of any financial gains. Because many don't want to do anything with it, they want it to stay just like it is.

Carey:

Yeah, I feel like most people don't think about the emotional connection that all of this has, and mental anguish is a perfect term because anguish is what you feel when you're trying to work this all out with your family members.

Tharlyn:

Absolutely, absolutely. You figure for the older generation when you know an older family member has, as repeatedly told a grandmother or a family member, don't do anything to the land, don't touch it, don't do anything. And if that has constantly been drilled into an older family member and the younger generation is saying, we want to do X, we want to do X, and they're telling, you know, that does create this, this mental anguish. And so there is that connection there. I think in this parallel between the mental and what could potentially be this financial gain for many family members if they did the proper estate planning. But you got this other generation that's saying, you know, we don't want to, we don’t want to move. We don’t want to do anything. Yeah.

Carey:

I wanted to talk about the mental health implications of heirs property so I asked AgriSafe’s Total Farmer Health Director Tara Haskins to give us more insight about this legal and financial issue.

Tara:

Yes, heirs property is a financial and a legal issue, but we can’t forget that its also a personal and relationship issue. Personal to the core identity and legacy of the producer and their family, and the inability to keep the land intact as it originally was can be experienced as a loss. Both a personal loss and a financial loss. Navigating communication and maintaining family relationships that can become strained and unfortunately sometimes broken as a result of this can be very emotional. Tiring. Taxing. This just compounds the already existing worry and anxiety and sometimes fear that individuals experience from the existing financial strain and legal processes.

Carey:

After this quick break, we are going to discuss what to do to prevent or solve Heirs’ Property situations.

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Carey:

Now my next question is one that I think our audience really needs to perk up and listen to. So if I own a farm or any piece of property, what steps should I take to ensure that I have a succession that I want?

Veronica:

Right, so the first thing you need to do is know exactly what you own. For some people for that is for some people that's clear. They know that they were looking for land and they found they had a realtor who was involved. They had closing attorneys at the table. They purchased this land through traditional means. They know I own this land. But some people, they inherited the farm. They just were born and they were farmers. You know, their dad was a farmer, their granddad was a farmer, their great grandad was a farmer. They just know that I have this farm and I'm running this farm and I'm on this land that's been in my family for several generations. And so it's important to know where you stand on that spectrum. Do I know for sure that I have clear title to my land? Do I know for sure who the owners or owner of the property is? For some people, it's easy and some people it's going to take some work. So once you know what you own, you want to think about who in your life you want to remain involved in this operation. So knowing what you own, what the legal setup is doing, who in your life you want to account for when you're doing your planning and then you come up with that actual legal plan to put the right documents in place to help your your vision to be cared for. You know, it starts out as a conversation with your family, your loved ones. But then at some point you need to involve an attorney who is familiar with farm planning and farm succession planning, and that estate planning generally who can help you to come up with the best legal plan for your particular farm.

Carey:

Ok. And that kind of, I guess, like working backwards. If if I am the owner and I, I don't want to have that conversation with my heirs, the heirs actually need to be the one to initiate that conversation. And then, I guess, basically take the same steps as what you just said, right?

Veronica:

Right, right. It can be challenging on both sides, from the owner to the potential the people who will be their heirs. It can be challenging, but somebody has to initiate that conversation.

Carey:

Yeah. Now what would happen if if the parent just basically does not want to face this just does not want to have the conversation? Are there any legal steps that the heirs can take to ensure that there's not such a mess after the death of their loved one happens?

Veronica:

That is a very challenging situation, and it does happen quite a lot. The children probably wouldn't be able to do anything while they're living. But what they can do is have that conversation amongst themselves and say, we know that this time it's going to come in the future, whether it's two weeks from now or 30 years from now. We know that it's going to happen. And so what do we want as a family? Because in many cases, it will be that the parent who owns the assets did not do the proper legal planning before they died. But if their children can come in and say, we know who we want to be the state administrator, we know how we want to resolve this situation, it might be the will divided three ways. Or we might say we know that Jimmy is the only one interested in farming, so we'll let him have all of that as long as he gives us the money in the bank accounts or whatever it might be. You can kind of have those conversations early on like what we want is a family. And then when that time comes, then the family is already on board as to what the plan is going to be next. But it really is. It can be hard to have that conversation in advance because you don't want to think about what's going to happen. But I actually just spoke with a family the other day where they did have this conversation before their parent passed, and they are rocking and rolling years later cohesively as a family because they had these conversations when their father was still living. So there are situations where the children can agree at that time, and then once the time actually happens, they already know what the next steps would be.

Carey:

Yeah. So just do it. Just have that conversation, regardless of how uncomfortable or awkward it is, it's just something that needs to happen.

Veronica:

Right, right. It doesn't have to happen all at once. It can be, you know, Hey, hey, dad, just want to talk to you. Like, do you have a long term plan for this farm? What do you see into the future like if you think and I like the way I like to do it, I say this thing one hundred years from now. So it's not just the parent that's gone. I'll probably be going to a hundred years from now. What do you want this to be? What do you want, you know, kind of look and just just pie in the sky future. What do we want? And sometimes that can help to make the conversation easier because I'm not asking where you die, what do you want? I'm asking in the future where none of us are here. What do you want your great grandchildren to be doing with this land? So that can kind of make it a little easier, perhaps.

Carey:

Yeah, great. Great entry into that conversation, then. Now, Veronica, before we end, is there anything else you would like to share with our listeners?

Veronica:

I would say communication. Communication is the key, whether it's between children and parents, whether it's between spouses, whether whether it's between the children. Communicate, communicate, don't assume, talk about it because with the cases that I handle, I would say a significant percentage of the challenge is because people misunderstand each other. So it don't assume that they're doing this because of some ill will. Sometimes it could be that they just have a different understanding of you. And so communicate. And if you need to mediate, you might need to bring someone outside the family to help the family to think through these issues. Doing it on your own is not always the best bet, and usually it's not. You usually need somebody to come in at some point and so communicate and mediate when necessary. Those would be. My final pointers.

Carey:

I like that you included mediation in there because I think a lot of times people need that mediator who is not emotionally involved in the situation to really help sort things out in a logical manner. Right, right. All right. Well, Veronica, we have enjoyed you so much on. Our podcast today and really look forward to being able to share that with our listeners, thank you so much.

Veronica:

You're welcome. Thank you for having me.

Carey:

Now Tharlyn, is there anything else you’d like to say about heirs property, before we end the show?

Tharlyn:

It's just important that one, we bring awareness to it and not just awareness that we bring a call to action and that people that we rally around this issue. So that one day we can't eradicate this. I think we can really help to eradicate heirs property, get a hold of it and making sure that we not just the African-American community, but that all communities are healthier, and more financially secure as a result. And so that we can then one day not have this conversation. That is property is something that is of the past and so that people are really able to and families are able to truly live in an environment where they are fully sustainable and truly getting all of the benefits from the land that they should.

Carey:

Yeah, I love the passion you have for this topic very much so. We thank you so much here at AgriSafe for being a Total farmer health podcast guest and look forward to hearing from you soon. Thank you so much.

Tharlyn:

Well, thank you very much for inviting me today.

Carey:

Thanks Tharlyn. And that concludes today’s episode! Thank you Tharlyn and Veronica for joining us thanks to our listeners for joining us for another episode of Talking Total Farmer Health. Be sure to subscribe to this podcast to hear more from AgriSafe on the health and safety issues impacting agricultural workers. If you want to hear more on heirs property, join us for a webinar with Veronica on March 15th. The webinar will be recorded for those who want to listen after the 24th and the link will be in the show notes. To see more from AgriSafe, including webinars and our newsletter, visit www.agrisafe.org. This episode was created by AgriSafe Network with The Network of National Library of Medicine Region Three. Script arranged by Laura Siegel, hosted by Carey Portell, edited by Joel Sharpton. Special guests Tharlyn Fox and Veronica McClendon.

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