Historic Partition Law Reform: A Game Changer for Heirs’ Property Owners

HEIRS' PROPERTY AND LAND FRACTIONATION: FOSTERING STABLE OWNERSHIP TO PREVENT LAND LOSS AND ABANDONMENT, Cassandra Johnson Gaither, Ann Carpenter, Tracy Lloyd McCurty, and Sara Toering, eds., U.S. Department of Agriculture, e-General Technical Report, Forthcoming

Texas A&M University School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 19-27

19 Pages Posted: 14 Jun 2019 Last revised: 6 Sep 2019

Date Written: June 12, 2019

Abstract

Over the course of several decades, many disadvantaged families who owned property under the tenancy-in-common form of ownership – property these families often referred to as heirs’ property – have had their property forcibly sold as a result of court-ordered partition sales. For several decades, repeated efforts to reform state partition laws produced little to no reform despite clear evidence that these laws unjustly harmed many families. This paper addresses the remarkable success of a model state statute named the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act (UPHPA), which has been enacted into law in several states since 2011, including in 5 southern states. The UPHPA makes major changes to partition laws that had undergone little change since the 1800s and provides heirs’ property owners with significantly enhanced property rights. As a result, many more heirs’ property owners should be able to maintain ownership of their property or at least the wealth associated with it.

This article describes how the UPHPA has gotten significant purchase among lawmakers at the state and federal level and among other very important stakeholders. At this time, 14 states located throughout every region of the U.S. as well as the U.S. Virgin Islands have enacted the UPHPA into law, making the UPHPA the 6th most successful of the 38 uniform real property acts the Uniform Law Commission has promulgated in its 127-year history. Further, the District of Columbia and New York currently are considering UPHPA bills that have been introduced in their respective legislatures. Over the course of the next several years, it is likely that several more states or other jurisdictions will enact the UPHPA into law. Further, the UPHPA has helped raise awareness of the many problems heirs' property owners face and important stakeholders have taken some very important actions to address some of these concerns. These stakeholders include the USDA's U.S. Forest Service, the USDA's National Resources Conservation Service, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Further, this article describes how the federal Farm Bill that Congress passed in 2018 and that was then signed into law explicitly references the UPHPA in a few places and provides incentives for additional states to enact it into law so that farmers and ranchers in those states will be eligible for certain USDA benefits that are only made available to farmers and ranchers who are located in states that have enacted the UPHPA into law.

Keywords: property, legal reform, family, legislation, intestacy, real estate, wealth, civil rights, race, agriculture, inequality, property rights, law and economics, valuation, Congress, states, discrimination

JEL Classification: A13, K10, K11, K49, O13, Q10, Q15, Q18, Q19, Q23, Q24, R30, R33, R39, Z10, Z13, Z18

Suggested Citation

Mitchell, Thomas W., Historic Partition Law Reform: A Game Changer for Heirs’ Property Owners (June 12, 2019). HEIRS' PROPERTY AND LAND FRACTIONATION: FOSTERING STABLE OWNERSHIP TO PREVENT LAND LOSS AND ABANDONMENT, Cassandra Johnson Gaither, Ann Carpenter, Tracy Lloyd McCurty, and Sara Toering, eds., U.S. Department of Agriculture, e-General Technical Report, Forthcoming; Texas A&M University School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 19-27. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3403088

Thomas W. Mitchell (Contact Author)

Texas A&M University School of Law ( email )

1515 Commerce St.
Fort Worth, TX 76102
United States
(817) 212-3935 (Phone)

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