A&T-Led Heirs Property Team Wins State-Level Cooperative Extension Award

By Dustin Chandler / 06/13/2024 College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences

EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (June 13, 2024) – A Cooperative Extension at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University-led program designed to help landowners protect and preserve their generational land has earned a major award from the N.C. Association of Cooperative Extension Specialists.

“Understanding Heirs Property at the Community Level in North Carolina,” led by Biswanath Dari, Ph.D. in collaboration with colleagues from North Carolina State University, was named “Outstanding Subject Matter Program by a Team” by the statewide Extension organization. The award marks the first time the two land-grant universities have worked together on an heirs property project.

“This is a team award, and we’re happy to receive it,” said Dari, an assistant professor in the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences and natural resource specialist with Cooperative Extension at N.C. A&T. “Heirs property is a very critical issue to small-scale landowners in North Carolina. Too many people do not know there are legal pathways and useful resources available to secure their property. We hope this program it allows other interdisciplinary groups and land-grant institutions to work together to help landowners.”

The project’s co-principal investigators, affiliated with N.C. State, include Robert Andrew Branan, JD, of the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics; Kurt Smith, Ph.D., of the N.C. State Forestry Department; and Noah Rannells, Ph.D. of NC FarmLink.

Heirs property is defined as land passed down through a family – often over generations – without the use of a will or probate court. The program aims to identify and educate landowners about the legal, financial and familial complications that heirs property can entail, and how to mitigate them.

Without a proper will or probate to confirm ownership, Dari said, families with generational land run the risk of involuntary land loss, disproportionally common among Black landowners, as well as farmland being sold well below market price. According to The Conservation Trust for North Carolina, the value of land in the state defined as heirs property is estimated at 301,000 acres and valued at $1.9 billion.

Funded through a $150,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture Risk Management Agency grant, the program involves six workshops across the state that cover the history of heirs’ property, inform participants about estate planning and legal strategies to secure their land, and provide other technical assistance.

The sixth and final summit is scheduled in Union County on July 17. The first summit was held in late January at A&T’s University Farm Pavilion.

“The impact of each summit or training varies from county to county,” said Dari. “In some, huge numbers of people have attended and some where there have been 15 or 20. In all the summits, the training has meant a lot to everyone who attended, and they’ve been an engaged audience every time. A lot of the attendees are heirs property owners and they’ve provided their own knowledge and experience, so it’s a two-way conversation.”

“My brother told me about the summit,” said Jerry Graves, a generational landowner who attended one of the summits. “We’ve got a couple tracts of heirs property that we originally owned, one in Guilford County and one in Rockingham. We’ve added up 43 first cousins over the years; it’s a big family and we have a lot of decisions to make, so we wanted to come here for some insight. The program was very informative.”

Media Contact Information: dlchandler@ncat.edu

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