Heir ownership prevents Mississippi farmers from taking advantage of their land
A new grant has been awarded to the Heirs Property Project through the Mississippi Center for Justice to help farmers who cannot benefit from their homesteads. While most land is transferred after death by will, some pass that land informally without any estate planning. Andrea Barnes, executive director of the Heirs Property Project, explains that this can lead to legal issues when direct ownership is disputed or required.
Barnes says “we’re not only looking to provide that direct legal assistance in terms of direct legal action that’s going to clear title, but we’re also looking to educate and provide those estate plans such as wills and to have and house the wills clinic.”
Barnes says the majority of people facing heirship issues are black, and the practice is often linked to distrust of a systemically racist legal system.
Many programs aimed at helping farmers require documentation of land ownership, and land is commonly used for on-farm loans. Barnes says the subsidy program provided by Walmart is intended to help farmers in Mississippi who are unable to meet these legal requirements.
“Not only do we help them clear the title, which would ultimately open the door for them to be eligible to receive finance and loans, etc., with reference to the farming business, but we also seek to helping farmers with education and awareness and understanding of what heir ownership is and how to avoid it,” says Barnes.
Experts say heir ownership is common in all parts of the state, not just among rural farmers.