Heirs’ property comes into being when the owner of real property (usually a house and/or land) dies without a will. All heirs (e.g., spouse and children) become owners of an undivided interest in the property, with the division determined by state law. Heirs’ property is significant as a social and historical phenomenon because property has been passed down without wills across multiple generations of Blacks in the South and whites in Appalachia because limited educational opportunities and patterns of exploitation led them to distrust the legal system. Heirs can number in the hundreds, presenting obstacles and vulnerabilities and limiting property ownership as a means of building intergenerational wealth. Quantifying the extent and value of heirs’ property is necessary to inform legislation and policy, and to guide future research. We summarize the findings of two peer-reviewed studies designed to meet these needs.


Southern Rural Development Center

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Southern Rural Development Center



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