JACKSON – On July 1, Governor Tate Reeves signed the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act (UPHPA) into law, marking a major victory for Mississippi’s families. The bill, sponsored by state Senators Barbara Blackmon, David Blount, David Jordan, Robert Jackson, Angela Turner-Ford, Sollie Norwood, Derrick Simmons, John Hohrn, Sampson Jackson II, Sarita Simmons, and Tammy Witherspoon and state Representatives Ed Blackmon and Solomon Osborne, helps protect the transfer of wealth between generations of families pass without a will or other estate planning. Because a majority of low-income and minority Mississippians are less likely engage in any form of estate planning, this law will help transfer wealth among many people who need it the most.
The provisions within the UPHPA, championed by social justice and housing advocates, promise to help diminish systemic inequities. In a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, the prevalence of heirs’ property is disproportionately high among low-income households, as well as racial and ethnic minority groups. 72% of non-white adults—and 55% of all adults—do not have wills, meaning the UHPHA will benefit many Mississippians who have historically been left behind. For many decades, large numbers of disadvantaged families in Mississippi, including a disproportionate number of African American families, have had their heirs’ property forcibly sold as a result of an unjust property law known as partition law.
Mississippi, like many other Southern states, is full of land that has been passed down from generation to generation without adhering to state land laws, making dozens of relatives co-owners of the land. Any individual owner can sell their fractional interest in the property, and the owner of any part of a parcel of land can demand a partition, or division of the property in court. The UPHPA requires a family member to offer their portion to other family members before selling it to a non-family member, and it requires a fair market sale of property if a partition occurs. These changes to existing law will protect family members from losing their land to strangers and from getting diminished value from family land if it is sold.
“I have had many clients who are devastated when they are forced to sell family land because a developer has acquired a fractional piece of the property. The UPHPA will give them the security they need to hang on to valued family land,” said Beth Orlansky, advocacy director at the Mississippi Center for Justice. Untangling title disputes when nothing has been done for several generations is time-consuming and expensive. Thanks to a grant from the Bank of America Settlement Funds Grant Program administered by the Mississippi Bar Foundation, Inc., beginning in January, 2021, the Mississippi Center for Justice will have the capacity to represent families whose income is less than 3 times the federal poverty level in determining heirs and bringing land title up to date.
With Governor Reeves’ signature, Mississippi joins 17 other states and the U.S. Virgin Islands that have enacted the UPHPA. Southern states have led the way with Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia enacting UPHPA.
Mississippi organizations who have promoted the UPHPA include the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives, Winston County Self Help Cooperative, Square O Consulting, Mississippi Center for Justice, 1890/1862 Institutions in Mississippi, Mississippi Farm Bureau, Ducks Unlimited, MS Forestry Association, and Mississippi Farm Bureau.