By Allison Constance
Across North Carolina, family land is lost, and people struggle to obtain benefits because they do not have a clear or marketable title to the home passed down to them. Fortunately, the North Carolina Bar Foundation, the NCBA Real Property Section, Legal Aid of North Carolina, Pisgah Legal Services, and the Land Loss Prevention Project have partnered together to create the Heir Property Pro Bono Project. The project helps heir property owners establish clear title to their homes and land, thereby preserving both generational wealth in families and safe and affordable housing in low-income communities, especially predominantly Black, rural communities.
As a leader in the real property bar, volunteer attorney Nancy Ferguson sees the value that the Heir Property Pro Bono Project can bring to clients and volunteer attorneys. “This project allows for attorneys in multiple areas of practice – business, estates and trusts, real estate – to provide assistance to Legal Aid and the citizens of North Carolina needing this kind of specialized help. The project can help underserved families to establish ownership for public benefits (such as disaster relief), to provide advice and assist intrafamily relationships and understanding, to structure and train families for ongoing operation and maintenance of family properties, among so many other needs. At the same time, the project provides a means for attorneys within those specialized areas to interact, share knowledge, train others, and learn about new resources and ideas in the process,” remarked Ferguson.
The Heir Property Pro Bono Project is remarkable in its collaborative nature. At Legal Aid of North Carolina, Supervising Attorney Nicole Mueller and her team have hosted and continue to plan community education and consultation events across North Carolina. “Heir property is such a hot topic, and bringing these clinics into our communities has given folks the opportunity to ask questions about home ownership and property rights. It’s rare that our clients have access to legal services in this area of law and it’s amazing to see how grateful they are to have someone with whom to talk about it,” shared Mueller. Simultaneously, “Pisgah Legal Services is excited about the prospect of connecting people in Western North Carolina with the legal assistance they may need to both prevent and untangle these issues,” noted Katie Russell Miller, Director of Community Engagement.
The Heir Property Project is also joining together to bring trainings and CLEs to volunteers. For information on these events and volunteering, please visit the project website.