Why Succession Planning is Important to Easements

Land ownership is the first step in succession planning! While this appears to be a simple statement, the misinterpretation of who owns land is one of the most vexing issues in the easement program. It goes without saying that in order to effect an easement on a property, only the rightful owner can make this happen. Therein lies the overwhelming concern. In countless cases, family members either misinterpret the ownership of the land by not understanding the deed to the property, or they never establish who will own the land after the death of the relative. In other instances, the land as accumulated enormous tax debt or loan debt, and surviving family members are forced to sell it.

The following steps may be useful in succession planning:

  • Each family should perform an inventory of all the land that is owned by the immediate family.
  • The deed to each parcel of property should be obtained, copied, and the original must be filed in a safe place.
  • Determine if the property is included in the will of the family member who owns the property.
  • If there is no will, and the family member who owns the land is still alive, encourage him or her to prepare a will as soon as possible.
  • If there is no will, and the family member is deceased, determine how many family members are legally entitled to inherit the property.
  • Obtain the addresses of all family members who may be heirs, and distribute this contact information to all relatives.
  • Develop an understanding of heirs and their responsibilities.

An understanding of heirs:

  • Heir property that is owned by many different relatives who are legally entitles to inherit the property. Please check your state laws regarding the succession of heirs.
  • The children of someone who dies without a will, own the property of their parent(s) equally.
  • All persons in the household cannot be heirs. Heirs are: all natural-born children, all legally adopted children, grandchildren and the person’s spouse at the time of death.
  • If the person does not have any living children or a living spouse, then the person’s living parents or siblings would be their heirs.
  • Heirs are not: stepchildren, children raised by the deceased by not formally adopted, or a divorced spouse.

Finally, all family members are encouraged to become interested in what happens to the land that rightfully belongs to them. Contact family members and follow-up on any issues that may cause concern. If one family member has moved away or does not want the burden of upkeep and maintenance of the property, another relative must take on this responsibility. Or if some of the heirs are not interested in the land, please consider buying them out by having them deed their share to you.

Land ownership required family members to work together and engage in succession planning. Only family members can keep the property in the family. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a family to “raise” and protect your land.

If you have any questions about succession planning, give us a call at 888.339.3334.


Source: Dr. Glenda Glover, Tennessee State University, Minority Landowner Magazine

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