Wells Fargo Foundation awards $300,000 grant to Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation® To Support Heirs’ Property Initiative

April 7, 2023

The Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation® announced it has been awarded a $300,000 grant over two years from the Wells Fargo Foundation to support its educational outreach and legal assistance to heirs’ property residents in South Carolina to help them keep their family land. The Center is the premiere organization delivering legal education and direct legal services to heirs’ property owners for more than 18 years. To date, the Center has resolved 340 title issues on land with a tax-assessed value of $20.7 million.

Heirs’ property is land passed down informally from generation to generation, often because landowners die without a will. In the absence of a will, the land is considered jointly owned by all heirs, split between multiple family members regardless of whether they have set foot on the land, lived on the property or paid the taxes.

“Property matters to people. It’s far more than just a parcel of land, it can be a window to the past that tells the story of a family, a community, or a way of life,” said Dr. Jennie L. Stephens, CEO for the Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation®. “We believe that with our proven expertise and with the help of our friends at Wells Fargo, we can help more families in SC protect their family land.”

“The Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation® should be commended for bringing the issue of heirs’ property to the forefront, and we’re grateful to be a part of this effort to transform a system that often leads to loss of property, land and wealth for families of color,” said Juan Austin, Senior Vice President at Wells Fargo Foundation. “Launched in 2022, Wells Fargo’s Heirs Property Initiative (HPI), provided $3.6 million in grant funding to 20 organizations to support work addressing issues of fractured or entangled titles. These housing and legal assistance nonprofits will be supported to help more people and communities keep generational land and property.”

The Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation has been protecting heirs’ property through legal education and direct legal services since 2005. In 2013, the Center began promoting the sustainable use of land through forestry education and services to provide increased economic benefit to low-wealth family landowners. The Center provides legal services and forestry services in Allendale, Bamberg, Beaufort, Berkeley, Calhoun, Charleston, Chesterfield, Clarendon, Colleton, Darlington, Dillon, Dorchester, Florence, Georgetown, Hampton, Horry, Jasper, Kershaw, Lee, Marion, Marlboro, Orangeburg, Richland, Sumter, and Williamsburg counties.

To date, the Center has provided 5,102 persons with free, one-hour “Advice and Counsel” (A&C) with 1459 clients receiving direct legal services to clear title. A total of 1,543 simple wills have been drafted at free, community Wills Clinics; more than 503 families (who collectively own in excess of 40,000 acres) have benefited from various levels of education and expert resources to develop and implement sustainable forestry management plans, and 340 titles have been cleared on family land with a total tax-assessed value of $20.7 million.