The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund held its fourth annual Heirs Property Bootcamp in Atlanta from December 1-3, 2022.
The program was open to Black farmers and landowners who have land in heirs property status and need assistance in clearing titles and making productive use of their land.
Heirs property is land that was passed down in families where the owner did not leave a will and the families own the land in common, based on their generational status in the family. State laws determine who is an heir to an undivided interest in the property.
In some cases, there are a few heirs but in other cases there could be as many as several hundred, scattered around the nation and the world. The ownership of land in this status makes it vulnerable to loss for non-payment of taxes, or sale by a partitioner from outside the family, or laying idle because none of the tenants can raise or invest money to make it productive.
Research suggests that 40% or more of the three million acres of farmland still owned by African American people in the South is held as heirs property, which means over one million of the three million acres remaining is held under these unclear joint titles. These one million acres of generational wealth, conservatively valued in the billions of dollars, is in danger of being lost, unless families come together to protect it.
The Federation’s Bootcamp brings 100 families with heir property problems together to learn about heir property and how to clear titles. Each participant is given a workbook and a schedule of activities like doing a family tree, contacting the heirs, bring heirs together to decide on a common strategy to retain and utilize the land.
Attorney Dania Davy, who heads the Federation’s Land Retention Department led the bootcamp. “We had 70 families represented this year; we were not able to have a virtual component which reduced attendance. We also had land practioners and attorneys from several states in the Southeast to participate. We are hoping to get families into the process to clear the titles and free the land for a productive use, including establishing family trusts and LLC’s to hold the land into the future for accumulating generational wealth,” said Davy.
Davy explained that the Federation has been funded by USDA for a multiyear, $5 million national cooperative agreement to provide technical assistance to heirs property owners. This agreement is liked to a USDA investment of $100 million in Heirs Property Relending Funds, which is available through intermediary lenders, most of them Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI’s). Shared Capital, a cooperative lender and CDFI out of Minneapolis, Minnesota, is the heirs property relending agent that is working with the Federation.
There were workshops at the Bootcamp on mediation available for families to work out disputes related to the land, clearing title on heirs property; estate planning for heirs property; how to get a UDA farm number for heirs property; ways the Federation assists heirs property owners to manage and get the most income from their land, including how to use USDA programs; and the heirs property relending programs.
There was also time on the program for families to meet with attorneys on their specific problems and also to get advice on wills and estate planning.
At the conclusion of the program, Cornelius Blanding thanked the program sponsors including USDA, John Deere, Nationwide Insurance, American Farmland Trust, CoBank, Farm Credit Council, the Farm Policy Center at Alcorn University. Crew, USDA Forest Service, National Cooperative Bank, Vermont Law School-Center for Agriculture and Food Systems and others for their support.
If you own heir property and need help and technical assistance, contact the Federation’s Land Retention Department at 404-765-0991 or through the website at: http://www.federation.coop.