What is Heirs’ Property?

“Heirs’ property? I don’t live on heirs’ property.  I live on land that my grandfather left my father and my father left me.  I pay the taxes, so I own it.”

Many people come into the Center believing that they own their land when they don’t.  They only own a percentage of the land as one of many heirs. Others come into the Center thinking that they live on heirs’ property, when they don’t.  So…

What is heirs’ property?

In the Lowcountry, heirs’ property (HP) is mostly rural land owned by African Americans who either purchased or were deeded land after the Civil War.  Historically, HP owners were routinely denied access to the legal system; could not afford to pay for legal services, and didn’t understand or trust the legal system.  As a result, much of this land was passed down through the generations without the benefit of a written Will, or the Will was not probated within the 10 years required by SC law to make it valid – so the land became heirs’ property.  Often the family members didn’t know that.

Heirs’ property is land owned “in common” (known as tenants in common) by all of the heirs, regardless of whether they live on the land; pay the taxes or have never set foot on the land.

Why is this a risky way to own land?

Heirs’ property ownership is risky because the land can be easily lost.  Any heir can sell his/her percentage of ownership to another who can force a sale of the entire property in the courts.

What should you do?

If you own HP located in one of the seven counties we serve (Beaufort, Berkeley, Charleston, Colleton, DorchesterGeorgetown and Jasper) – please call the Center at: (843) 745-7055 and make an appointment to sit down with one of our attorneys for one hour of FREE “Advice and Counsel” and get answers to your questions about your particular HP issues.

There are a lot of mistaken ideas about heirs’ property.  Learn more about the Myths and Truths of heirs’ property.

REMEMBER – An “oral” Will is not the same as a “written” Will.  You must have your Last Will and Testament properly drafted by an attorney – in writing and witnessed – to be considered a legal document that properly indicates who will inherit what you own after you are gone.

Oral Will of an Ancestor: “I worked hard to pay for this land and I want it to be here forever to be used by all of you children, your children and your children’s children. I never want this land to be sold or divided. Bessie Mae, your family has the piece by the big oak tree. John, Jr., your family has the piece by the creek, and Tom, your family has the piece by Mr. George’s house.”

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