Legal Services Alabama (LSA) is dedicating the month of June to educating the public about the importance of estate planning to empower people to take necessary steps towards creating and preserving generational wealth.
When home and property owners pass away without a legal will heirs property is created, and typically becomes divided and partially owned by multiple heirs.
Without documentation that determines singular owners for assets, heirs property creates complicated legal structures that could eventually lead to land loss and community blight when not addressed.
“Heirs property occurs when title to real property remains in the original owner’s name and is passed unto others without the original owner having a Last Will and Testament, deed, trust, or other legal strategy in place to transfer clear title of the property to others,” says Valynda Jerome-Williams, LSA Heirs Property Project Coordinating Attorney.
“Thus, multiple heirs could each have a fractional interest in the property, causing complex legal issues. Heirs property may cause land loss, poverty, land ownership disputes, heir location problems, trouble obtaining funding to improve the property, wealth gaps, encumbered title and blight property, among other issues.”
The creation of heirs property is easily avoided by completing an estate plan – a service for which LSA can offer free assistance to eligible clients.
“Legal Services Alabama provides wills, deeds, powers of attorney, and other estate planning instruments free of charge to Alabamians who qualify for our services,” says Jerome-Williams. “We provide counsel and advice, family meetings, mediation referrals, title searches, family trees, heir location services, and extended court representation services.”
Heirs property has a significant negative impact across Alabama, with many citizens being unaware they have heirs property in the family. For low-income people, primarily Black families, this loss of resources contributes heavily to issues of generational poverty.
During the month of June, LSA will prioritize education, self-help resources and legal services related to estate planning and avoiding the creation of heirs property.
Additionally, LSA is currently building an online resource center that will house all available Alabama estate planning information in a single space.
“Awareness around heirs property and estate planning is especially important for people in Alabama because people in Alabama deserve to build a legacy for their families. They deserve to know their rights. Alabama, just like many other states in the South, contains a lot of heirs property,” says Jerome-Williams.
“Alabamians are at-risk of land loss in their families because of heirs property. Proper estate planning can prevent or reduce the happening of heirs property. At a minimum, we recommend Alabamians have an estate plan that contains a Last Will and Testament, Living Will, and Power of Attorney.”