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Family Farmland can be Saved

More than 30 people gathered on Wednesday, April 12,at the GHW Center to welcome attorney and land specialist Dania Davy to a seminar on Land Retention. Until Ms. Davy arrived, Mr. Ocie Jones presented about the history and development of the George Henry White Center, and Ms. Wanda Campbell-Clay explained how family land can be lost or neglected through lack of understanding.

The loss of family land, especially for families of color, has been profound. When a landowner fails to create a will, or when the will is vague, the issue of “heir property” is the result. Multiple people may be co-owners of the land, but since the land remains undivided, they all share the responsibilities, costs, and obligations. Should income be produced, the profits would be distributed to the co-owners according to the fractional interest each has.

Often, however, one or a few of the owners are carrying a bigger share of the burden. Also, family relationships may be at odds with actual legal procedures. Co-owners may be scattered or have little interest in what seems to me a minor financial result. Land can be lost through tax sales (to recover unpaid taxes). Or, the courts can order public sale of land owned by two or more people (partition sale.)

Ms. Davy outlined some of the ways that land can stay within families and be effectively managed. Two legal options are creating a Trust, and creating a Will. The Trust can be effective as soon as it is established. The Will is only effective upon the decease of the original owner.

With a well-established system, co-owners can apply for programs of the USDA, Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service and Risk Management Agency. There are Federal farm loans and ways to reduce costs, or monetize land assets.

Often, the first step is to get documentation of property deeds, tax plat maps, and to examine the family tree. When all co-owners are known, there are options such as buying out uninterested co-owner’s portions, or utilizing land with forestry, agriculture, hunting or other programs.

Procrastination—putting off land and distribution decisions—is the worst thing you can do. Many people shy away from estate planning, under the belief that it’s too soon or will invite disaster. However, the reality is that good planning now can prevent huge headaches for your descendants for years to come, and can prevent the loss of what you have worked hard to maintain or to build up.

The Federation of Southern Cooperatives offers numerous tools and resources for family land holders. Check their website:, or call them at 404-765-0991. A video of the entire presentation is available on the website.

This was the second of a series of presentations on effective land owners

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