Florida has taken a more justice centered, equity-based step toward remedying the disparities that affect minorities.
By LaTonya Lipscomb Smith & Trinity Turinetti • Three Rivers Legal Services
The principal asset of people in the bottom two-thirds of the socio-economic strata is real property.
While owning a home is an essential component in accumulating wealth, many low-wealth individuals neglect to create an estate plan for their property.
While 55% of white Americans die intestate (without a will), 72% of non-white Americans die without an estate plan.
Based on historical data, the pattern of disenfranchisement and stripping minorities of their property has ultimately had a substantial diminishing effect on generational wealth and capital accumulation.
African Americans were granted permission to own real property following the Civil War, but attempts to purchase property were systemically stifled by white landowners and government policies.
Southern white landowners responded to the loss of their stronghold on land and changes in the economic and social status quo with discrimination and racial violence.
The effect of more than a century of stifling Southern African American homeownership is evidenced by the fact that only 40.6% of African Americans own their homes and 77% neglect to create a plan for their principal asset upon their death.
As a result, a disproportionate percentage of African Americans in the South are faced with heirs’ property issues and they have historically not seen justice-based outcomes.
Fortunately, with the enactment of the Uniform Partition Heirs’ Property Act on July 1, Florida has taken a more justice-centered, equity-based step toward remedying the disparities that plague minorities.
The UPHPA helps preserve family wealth passed to the next generation. If a landowner dies without a will, the real property passes to the heirs as tenants-in-common.
This is a vulnerable form of ownership because any individual heir can force a partition sale. Historically, an investor has been able to usurp their way into purchasing a small fraction of the heirs’ property, which then allowed them to file a partition action and force a sale of the real property.
With families in this vulnerable position, the investor can acquire the entire parcel for a price far below fair market value, further depleting the family’s wealth.
The enactment of the UPHPA assures a series of due process protections including notice, appraisal and right of first refusal.
It also allows for co-tenants to choose not to exercise their right of first refusal, thus a commercially reasonable sale, supervised by the court, will be conducted.
Our communities face a moral imperative to address historic wrongs and their resulting present-day disparities.
Three Rivers Legal Services offers access to the legal system through the Home Sweet Home Project. It seeks to help family members save their heirs’ property through probate litigation, estate planning and community outreach.
With 18 states having enacted the UPHPA and seven more states introducing the bill, the nation is acknowledging the historic systemic problems and taking steps to address them.
If you are suffering from an heirs’ property issue or would like more information on the topic, call (904) 423-8966 or visit trls.org.
LaTonya Lipscomb Smith is a staff attorney at Three Rivers Legal Services Inc. focusing on probate litigation, estate planning and community outreach.
Trinity Turinetti is a legal intern at Three Rivers Legal Services, a student at Tulane Law School and 2022 J.D. candidate.
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