Alabama Heirs Property Alliance Helping Educate Residents, Farming Families About Key Issue

Dan CooperAgri-business, Alabama


(AUBURN UNIVERSITY, AL/May 8, 2024) — Heirs property is common in Alabama. There is land in every county that is classified as heirs property, also known as family land. Whether families are attempting to develop or sell the land left by previous generations, the lack of a clear title makes it difficult for families to move forward.

Adam Rabinowitz, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System agricultural economics specialist, said heirs property is more prevalent in Alabama than individuals may think.

“Heirs property is an issue that is created when someone dies without having a will or without the will being properly probated in the courts,” Rabinowitz said. “As a result, all of the heirs of the deceased become shared owners of the land. This can lead to a large number of family members having a fractional interest in the land.”

Alabama Heirs Property Alliance

The Alabama Heirs Property Alliance is a partnership between Auburn University, Alabama A&M University and Tuskegee University. Its purpose is to provide guidance to landowners in need of direction about heirs property.

Rabinowitz, who is also an associate professor in the Auburn University College of Agriculture’s department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology, said the level of need in Alabama was one of the reasons that he and colleagues from other land-grant universities in the state decided to partner to tackle this problem.

As a part of the alliance, Rabinowitz, Portia Johnson, Ryan Thomson, Danielle Rudolph and Robert Zabawa have facilitated an intense training for Extension agents and specialists, as well as legal professionals. This training enables these professionals to be more effective in their conversations and assistance with stakeholders. More than 56 individuals have had training from the alliance, which includes collaboration with Jacy Fisher, an Alabama attorney specializing in heirs property.

“The team that we have been building in Alabama is going to help address landowner challenges that can create tension in families, limit income and wealth opportunities and potentially lead to land loss,” Rabinowitz said. “By training and further supporting Extension professionals, the alliance will have a much wider impact in minimizing the negative effects of heirs property.”

Serving Every Corner of Alabama

The Alabama Heirs Property Alliance is partnering with county Extension offices to help educate and empower individuals and families who have heirs property and are trying to figure out how to best address the issue.

A series of workshops are taking place across Alabama. The series began in March with an heirs property introduction. Workshops will continue in at least 10 different locations through November. Each workshop begins with a statewide Zoom session that is viewed locally at a county venue and is followed by an in-person activity. The activity is designed to help attendees better understand heirs property or begin to address their personal situation through hands-on experience. The session wraps up with an opportunity to ask an attorney generic heirs property questions via Zoom.

While attorneys are not available to answer specific questions for individual circumstances, these workshops lay a foundation for families to take steps necessary to work with an attorney to address their title issue, including identifying heirs and understanding how to make the most of their family land.

Why is heirs property a big deal?

Johnson, who is also an Extension specialist and a assistant professor in the Auburn College of Human Science’s department of Consumer and Design Sciences, said a common misconception is that when leaving property to others the easiest and most fair thing to do is to pass land down to all heirs jointly.

“Leaving physical property, whether that be land or a home, to all your children equally and collectively can cause a lot of unintended consequences,” Johnson said. “Leaving joint ownership creates rifts and disagreements within the family about how to manage or divide use of the property. It can also leave the property vulnerable and legally unprotected.”

One of the best things families can do as they are making estate planning decisions is to leave ancestral land with clear titles and an understanding of their wishes.

“Sometimes the decisions made in a will with the intention of keeping the family land together could be the very things that end up tearing the family and the land apart in the end,” Johnson said.

More Information Learn more about heirs property and how you can prevent it by visiting the Alabama Heirs Property Alliance web page. You can also search the Extension website calendar or call your county Extension office to see if there is an heirs property event scheduled in your area.