Borchard Fellow Publishes Article on Heirs Property

Will Breland, a 2020-2021 Borchard Fellow in Law & Aging, has published an article in the Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law & Policy. Acres of Distrust: Heirs Property, the Law's Role in Sowing Suspicion Among Americans and How Lawyers Can Help Curb Black Land Loss examines the tremendous loss of Black lands that occurred in the latter half of the twentieth century and into the current decade and argues that many such losses can be attributed to the prevalence of “heirs property,” or property defined by the existence of a tenancy-in-common form of ownership as a result of intestacy, and speculators, developers, and legal professionals’ exploitation of such landowners’ tenuous form of ownership through partition sales. The article argues that such exploitation has caused many, particularly in the African American community, to view legal professionals with distrust, particularly regarding property matters. To illustrate the connection between Black landownership and its past interactions with the legal system, the article outlines the social and legal history of Black landownership. While scholars debate the impact of mistrust in the legal system and its practitioners on estate planning, the article contends that past negative interactions with the legal system inhibit the utilization of estate planning services. As a result, this perpetuates a cycle of inheritance through intestacy on a massive scale. Finally, the article provides proposed solutions for legal professionals to consider when dealing with such legal issues.