Across North Carolina, family members who have inherited and own land together can face a particular set of problems that leaves them vulnerable to involuntary land loss, and makes it difficult for them to earn a sustainable living from their property or access federal conservation funding that would benefit birds and other wildlife. This land, known as “heirs property,” consists of family farms, forests and other land owned by many descendants with an undivided stake in the land and often occurs when land is passed down without a will.
Heirs property can be found in every county in the state and has an estimated value of $1.8 billion across North Carolina, although these family landowners are often unable to realize the true value of their property.
By enhancing private property protections and due process for heirs families, they can be protected from “forced sale” situations, keeping their land and wildlife habitat intact, and ensuring they have access to important federal funding for conservation improvements and disaster recovery.
That’s a win for birds and family landowners, and is the driving force behind new legislation in the North Carolina General Assembly. The Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act (Senate Bill 363 and House Bill 367) provides important due process for family landowners, protecting them against involuntary land loss. When we bolster the property rights of these landowners, birds and other wildlife benefit in all kinds of ways.
The 2018 federal Farm Bill included new provisions that make it easier for heirs families in states that have enacted the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act (UPHPA) to access federal funding for land improvements that enhance agriculture, water quality, and wildlife habitat. The UPHPA has already been passed in 17 states, including South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Mississippi. North Carolina should be next.
For more than a year, Audubon North Carolina has worked on this issue with a coalition of groups, including land loss prevention organizations, attorneys, land trusts, and conservation groups. Audubon advocates talked with elected officials about this issue at our annual Advocacy Day in 2020 and 2021, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers are leading the way by sponsoring the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act in the current legislative session. Sponsoring lawmakers released the following statements when introducing the bill:
Rep. John Szoka: “For too long, many family landowners in North Carolina have not been able to maximize the value of their land, while also missing out on federal cost share programs that boost agricultural productivity and wildlife outcomes. It’s long past overdue that we support these families with the commonsense protections and due process found in the Uniform Partition of Heirs’ Property Act.”
Rep. Brian Turner: “This bill preserves and protects long held family lands across North Carolina. I am excited to join a bipartisan group of legislators and a broad coalition of partners to make this happen.”