It may sound like the Palmer & Slay team has been watching too many old westerns on the Grit channel when we say this, but here it goes: Mississippi families need to be wary of land speculators. Modern day schemers are using probate and real estate law to hustle grieving families — no cattle rustling or shootout in the saloon required.
Modern-Day Land Grab
- Speculators comb the probate court records looking for people who died without a will.
- The probate records will reveal who owned property when they died, and who inherited it. The speculators look for property that passed to a group of heirs rather than a single owner.
- The speculators will then cross-reference real estate records to determine who now owns property that passed to a group of heirs. If the family hired an attorney and sorted things out so that one person now owns the family’s land, speculators typically move onto the next potential target. If ownership is still split among many people, the speculators move in.
- The speculators start contacting heirs who may or may not realize they are now property owners and tell them about the wonders of partition sales. Under Mississippi state law, the co-owners of a piece of property can ask the other owners to buy them out or force a partition sale of the property.
- The speculator helps the property owner shake down their relatives, then moves on to the next target.
Individuals that have been living on and paying taxes on land they assumed they owned are understandably upset when this happens, but there is little they can do to protect themselves. Family members are literally having land sold out from under them because their estranged relatives are hard up for cash.
Mississippi policymakers have tried to stop speculators from targeting property-owning families whose loved ones died without a will. A few years ago they passed the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act (UPHPA) into law.
The UPHPA requires a family member who wants to cash out to offer to sell their portion of the property to other family members before selling it to a stranger (typically a speculator who has promised them a windfall). This law prevents speculators from swooping in, buying out a minority property owner, and forcing the sale of a piece of property themselves. But speculators can still partner with a minority owner and split the profits, so it hasn’t completely shut down the practice.
Protecting Family Property
The best way to prevent your family from falling prey to land speculators is to craft an estate plan. Rather than letting your property pass to a number of heirs, get a will that details who inherits what.
A will can ensure a piece of property is kept in the family. But a will can just as easily advise the family to sell a piece of property and divide the proceeds. Either way, the decision to sell should be up to you, not a speculator who pressures one of your heirs into cashing out.
Preserving Your Wealth. Protecting Your Loved Ones.
Families in the Brandon, Mississippi area who want to protect the land their family has owned for generations must be proactive about putting an estate plan in place.
The Palmer & Slay team is here to help any family that has questions about what to do with their property. Please contact us today to schedule an initial consultation.