Homeowners living on property passed down from family sometimes can’t take advantage of their property rights.
This problem gained attention after the 2005 hurricanes when some Louisiana residents were unable to receive federal and state aid for property damage, said Jeanette Tucker, LSU AgCenter family economist. “They owned their homes. They even paid property taxes. But legal documents didn’t list them as owners so they lacked ‘clear title,’” she said.
Their homes were passed down through generations by family agreement, but not through the legal system, Tucker explained. “They owned ‘heir property’ and couldn’t receive Road Home government aid or finance repairs,” she said, adding that heir property issues are common in both rural and urban areas throughout Louisiana.
Tucker said heir property comes about when necessary legal work isn’t done after a property owner dies. “If you do nothing, the right to live on the property goes to a living heir, who is related to the deceased property owner by blood or marriage, or named in a will,” she said. The heir legally owns the property, but the property’s title does not automatically pass to the heir. Even if the property owner had a valid will, the heir still must take the original to court to get clear title, Tucker said.
According to Tucker, if you do not have clear title, you may not be able to:
– Sell your property.
– Make repairs to the property.
– Borrow money against the property.
– Cash an insurance check.
– Deal with a bank on a foreclosure.
– Qualify for government aid to fix your house.
– Get a homestead exemption for taxes.
– Get notice of actions by the city or parish if they try to take your home from you.
– Have a court rule on “claims of heir” in a lawsuit against those falsely claiming to be heirs of the original owner.
Getting clear title used to be expensive and time consuming; however, Act No. 81, passed by the Louisiana Legislature in 2009, simplifies and reduces the cost of the process, Tucker said. “Act No. 81 lets heir property owners file an ‘Heirship Affidavit’ that can get them clear title to homes they live in if the estate is valued at less than $75,000,” Tucker said. This process can reduce legal fees and filing costs.
An Heirship Affidavit is a statement under oath by two or more heirs (including the surviving spouse, if any) as to certain facts. “It can only be used if the property owner died without a valid will and must be filed after 90 days from the property owner’s death,” Tucker said.
Generally the Heirship Affidavit requires:
– Date of death of the deceased and his home address at the time of death.
– Marital status of the deceased and the name and address of the surviving spouse, if any.
– Names and last known addresses of the heirs and their relationship to the deceased
– Legal description of the property.
Other actions property owners can do to protect their property include:
– Make sure your property taxes are paid.
– Have a valid will.
– Make a family tree to help family members know who their relatives are.
If you think you may have heir property valued at $75,000 or less, Tucker advises calling an attorney. Explain that you want to file an Heirship Affidavit. “The attorney can walk you through the process, determine whether you qualify and describe information that you may need to get clear title,” Tucker said. Useful documents to bring to your attorney visit include deeds, tax receipts, death certificates and obituaries, she said.
Tucker recommends a publication, “Protect Your Property: Heir Property in Louisiana,” available from Louisiana Appleseed at http://louisiana.appleseednetwork.org. It is available in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.
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