The term heirs’ property refers to land that has been passed down informally for multiple generations through intestate succession. Each generation of intestate succession can drastically increase the number of heirs who own the property as tenants-in-common to the point that many may not even know their heirship status. This clouds the title to the property and makes ownership more fractionalized. Because heirs’ property exists outside of the official estate and title systems, owners are vulnerable both at the community and individual levels for three main reasons.
First, and most importantly, heirs’ property is a leading cause of involuntary Black land loss.
Second, scholars have found a link between heirs’ property and diminished community vitality.
Finally, heirs’ property ownership structures can remove owners’ access to funding and government assistance programs, creating links to poverty at a parcel-by-parcel level.
This abstract has been adapted from the authors' opening paragraphs.
Pearson, J. Noble and Coward, Lillian, "Heirs' Property in Virginia: Filling in the Gaps" (2023). Virginia Coastal Policy Center. 97.