Lincoln officials provide advice on 'heir land'

March 19, 2004|EMILY BURTON

BONEYVILLE - When land owners die without a proper deed of family land, known as heir land, some descendants have to fight for legal recognition of their real estate inheritance.

Citizens from around the state crowded into Boneyville Baptist Church on Thursday, many hoping to resolve unfinished business with long-dead relatives at a meeting hosted by Lincoln County Property Valuation Administrator David Gambrel.

Heir land has become such an issue at the PVA office, Gambrel and several local officials spoke at the meeting to put ownership myths to rest and perhaps inspire some descendants to start claiming what is theirs.

"A lot of you are paying property taxes on lands that the last time it was recorded was the 1800s. So you're going to have to become genealogists to figure this out," said Gambrel.


The majority of heir land has floated through families without a proper deed because wills have not been made or properly recorded, said Gambrel.

"People are not following up on wills A lot of you don't have a problem, you just think you do because you haven't followed up on (a will)."

Without a recorded will filed at the courthouse, family members trying to get a proper deed often have to research a long list of heirs with partial interest in the property.

"When you're looking for heir land, you're going to have to get back to where someone owned 100 percent interest in that deed," said attorney Jeff Ralston. This could mean hunting down a great-great-grandfather and plenty of long-lost cousins, he added.

Paying taxes does not create land ownership

County Attorney John Hackley also helped dispel the wide-spread myth that paying taxes on the land created ownership.

"Paying taxes does not guarantee possession of the property, especially if there's a joint interest, a brother or sister," said Hackley.

"A number of people simply leave things to the children, and through word of mouth, create a disposition of the property," a type of ownership very difficult to prove in court, Hackley said. "If you have children, or if you have land, if you wish to have a specific disposition of property, it is very wise to have a will."

If no will is found, there are limited ways to claim real estate, said Ralston.

"Short of litigation, there are only three ways in which you can obtain real estate, through a deed an affidavit of descent or a will," said Ralston. "That's the only way you can own real estate in Kentucky without a lawsuit."

Heir land disputes can be settled through litigation if the parties interested cannot agree, said Ralston, but the fight can be costly and lengthy.

"That's the worst way to do it, because it's time consuming, and it's expensive, and that property is probably going to be sold by the master commissioner. And there's no guarantee who's the highest bidder," cautioned Ralston.

Improper surveys cause headaches

Improperly surveyed land also has caused relatives headaches when trying to determine the size of the property in question.

Austin-Gooch Engineering surveyor Doug Gooch said some deeds were improperly written by lawyers or incompetent surveyors.

To guarantee a property line, heir land should be surveyed again and the property lines enforced, said Gooch.

As maps age and lands go unclaimed, neighboring property borders can slowly expand to eat away at heir lands.

This can sometimes be solved with a new survey and a diligent watch of boundary markers, he said.

"Maintain your monuments If you've got cornerstones, maintain them, go out and check on them, keep people from moving them," he said.

People at the meeting, some from as far away as Louisville, said they were glad to have come.

"It's very helpful, very helpful. Cause we do have some heir land. We don't want to lose it, we want to keep it in the family, and it's worth fighting for," said Gary Smallwood.

Gambrel said he hoped the community would take more away from the meeting than just good advice. He enlisted volunteers to form the Central Kentucky Land Lost Committee, to help others with heir land questions find the immediate help they need.

"These situations never get better. The longer you wait, the worse it gets. Why? Because people die, and then they can't sign anything," said Ralston.

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