Provisions in the federal farm bill designed to aid owners of heirs' property, who have historically been excluded from farm assistance programs, were approved in late 2018. They currently are going through public comment sessions with the Farm Service Agency.
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., co-sponsored the heirs' property language in the bill.
Heirs’ property is land that’s been handed down through a family without a will, typically resulting in property with multiple part-owners but no clear record of ownership. It's a perilous form of ownership that's common among black residents of South Carolina and other Southern states and also common among white Appalachian families and Native Americans.
With unclear property ownership, heirs have not been able to tap in to federal programs that assist farmers, ranchers and foresters, such as farm loans, crop insurance and disaster assistance compensation.
The farm bill provision is meant to help heirs' property owners access such programs, and now the Farm Service Agency is looking for input on specifics questions, such as what alternative types of proof of property ownership the agency should accept.
The last scheduled gathering will be held Wednesday in Washington, D.C., and Friday is the last day to register online to attend, at fsa.usda.gov. The Farm Service Agency previously held a listening session in Mississippi, and will accept written comments online, at regulations.gov, through Aug. 31. For more information, contact J. Latrice Hill at 202-690-1700 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The farm bill provisions Scott co-sponsored with Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., lay out rules to allow heirs’ property owners to obtain a “farm number” required for access to federal programs such as farm loans, crop insurance and disaster aid.
The Charleston-based Center for Heirs' Property Preservation will be sending CEO Jennie Stephens to the Washington hearing.
"The farm number, the ID for one's land, is the door to access all USDA cost-share programs," Stephens said Thursday. "If heirs' property owners are not able to register their farm land with the Farm Service Agency, they will not be eligible for any USDA programs."
The farm bill also contains a provision that, under certain conditions, allows nonprofits to tap federal loans to help families resolve ownership and succession on farmland that has multiple owners.
That's important, because when land has been passed down without a will, often through many generations, the time and costs involved with clearing up the title to the land can be a large roadblock for the heirs.
The rules being discussed apply in states, including South Carolina, that have adopted versions of the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act. The act strengthened the rights of heirs’ property owners in cases where a partial owner of the land wants to cash out their share — an event that can trigger a sale of an entire heirs' property because money is easier to divide among dozens of people.
The previous input session, in Mississippi, was held July 31. To date, only one comment about the regulations has been received and posted online. That comment suggested that payment of local property taxes should be considered, when verifying owners of heirs' property.