HPRC Projects

Legal Reform Work

The purpose of HPRC was originally focused solely on addressing the significant deficiencies in the state forced partition sales statutes, deficiencies that accelerate the rate of involuntary dispossession of heirs' property owners in general and African-American landowners in particular. This work culminated in the submission of a proposal by the American Bar Association's Property Preservation Task Force (PPTF) to the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL) which made it one of the few proposals it accepted for drafting in 2006. NCCUSL unanimously voted on July 15, 2010 to accept the final draft of the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act, and the ABA has adopted the Act as well. Check out the Uniform Law Commission's web page devoted to the Act, which has a list of the states that have adopted or are considering the Act (currently over a dozen have already adopted it), as well as links to docs related to the Act. Many HPRC members served as "Observers" to the NCCUSL process and have provided written feedback and in-person testimony for each drafting session. Furthermore, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights was instrumental in securing pro bono law firm help in additional research tasks in support of the proposals that have sprung up.

Resource Center Project [NOT CURRENTLY ACTIVE]

Once the NCCUSL proposal was submitted, HPRC's work expanded beyond statutory reform into several other areas. The primary second project of HPRC was the North Carolina-based Resource Center, which was launched in the Fall of 2008 after receiving a generous $135,000 grant from the Real Property, Trusts and Estates (RPTE) section of the American Bar Association, and ran until 2011. The Resource Center acted as a "one-stop shopping" support center for local organizations that directly aid heirs' property owners. When such local organizations needed assistance either with the legal work of heirs' property, or with presenting the family members with all of the options for use of the land (conservation, real estate, recreation, timber, farming, etc), the Resource Center partnered with the local organization to link the family with both pro bono legal assistance and connections to various organizations that provide land use support. By leveraging the unique skills of these Coalition members, the Resource Center delivered pro bono legal, business, and real-estate assistance to clarify and stabilize ownership and to help heirs' property owners self-determine the best use of their property. The Resource Center was open to all eligible, landowning families regardless of race, but it was primarily concerned with African-American communities because it is in these low-income areas that heirs' property issues have been most intractable.

The Resource Center was managed and administered by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (LCCR). In addition to its management tasks, LCCR was responsible for recruiting pro bono attorneys that partner with local organizations to address each family's legal needs, and LCCR also works with an organization called Land Rich to establish partnerships with different types of non-legal service providers.

It was through the Resource Center and the work of the Lawyers Committee that HPRC formed a partnership with Harvard Law School's Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program to provide services with some of the new Resource Center intakes. LCCR also brokered a relationship with North Carolina Central Law School's mediation/facilitation, which provided large group facilitation training for HPRC members. Given that heirs' property cases often involve large families, such training is essential to successful handling of these cases.

In its first two years, the Resource Center assisted five family groups with large land holdings and complicated title problems. The first phase of Resource Center assistance involved determining all of the heirs to the properties, tracking down missing and previously unknown heirs, and consolidating title in an LLC or trust. During this process, the legal team began to help the owners crystallize their vision for the property into a specific land-use plan ready to be implemented as soon as title to the property is insurable. The services of a broad range of consultants was critical.

Although the Resource Center project no longer continues in an official capacity, HPRC members still refer cases to HPRC for possible connections to additional services such as pro bono assistance and mediation.

Other HPRC Projects

Gathering data on the nature of partition cases handled by practitioners across the South. This data is being used to support the NCCUSL proposal.

Streamlining the intake process used by legal services and advocacy groups for heirs' property cases so as to facilitate data gathering.

Conducting outreach sessions across the southeast that will help alert property owners to the inherent dangers of heirs' property ownership. In 2008, Alabama Appleseed and the Central Alabama Fair Housing Center gave dozens of presentations all over Alabama to over 500 heirs' property owners, in partnership with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. Many of the North Carolina HPRC members conduct outreach on an ongoing basis.

Collaborating on community outreach strategies.

Poviding unified feedback to the USDA in a 2007 Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) regarding heirs' property, and urging the USDA to take a more active role in addressing the heirs' property problem.