Listen to Professor Thomas W. Mitchell and Anne Price discuss the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act (UPHPA) and how it helps struggling families hold on to and build wealth through land ownership.


Professor Thomas W. Mitchell is a Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Program in Real Estate and Community Development Law at Texas A&M University School of Law. He is a ground-breaking legal scholar who has worked for more than 20 years to help some of the most economically insecure groups secure stronger property rights. 

Thomas joined Anne Price to discuss how struggling families can hold on to and build wealth through land ownership. Describing how wills and estate planning are vital mechanisms for families to pass down wealth to future generations, he highlighted that, while 57% of white people without a high school diploma have a will, just 32% of Blacks with the highest level of education have one.

Whenever a landowner dies without a will, the heirs — usually a spouse and children — inherit the estate. They own the land in common, with no one person owning a specific part of it. Thomas explained how this can become problematic as anyone can buy an interest in one of these family estates; all it takes is a single heir willing to sell. And anyone who owns a share, no matter how small, can go to a judge and request that the entire property be sold at auction.

As the principal drafter of The Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act (UPHPA), an act to help protect families from real estate speculators who may seek to acquire a small share of heirs’ property in order to file a partition action and force a sale, Thomas and other supporters have helped 14 states* and the U.S. Virgin Islands enact this act into law. The UPHPA represents the most significant reform to partition law since certain reforms were made to partition laws in the 1800s.

Thomas shared the major successes and challenges he has faced in his efforts to achieve enactment of the UPHPA in many states and other jurisdictions in every region of this country, as well as how the UPHPA would impact the economic security and well-being of both rural and urban communities across the country.

To listen to the full discussion, use the audio player above or subscribe to the Hidden Truths podcast on iTunes.


To learn more about Thomas’ work, visit the Texas A&M University School of Law website at law.tamu.edu.

*As of July 8, 2019, 11 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands have enacted the UPHPA. The governor of Illinois, Missouri, and New York still need to sign the bills the legislatures passed or for the bills to automatically become law if the governors neither sign the bills nor veto them.


RESOURCES:

The Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act (UPHPA) 

Uniform Law Commission’s most current enactment information 

Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act Bill with some of the additional protections the New York City Bar Association and Thomas W. Mitchell worked to add. 

Thomas W. Mitchell, From Reconstruction to Deconstruction: Undermining Black Landownership, Political Independence and Community Through Partition Sales of Tenancies in Commonhttps://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1544380 (this is considered the seminal article on the issue)

Thomas W. Mitchell, Historic Partition Law Reform: A Game Changer for Heirs’ Property Owners, United States Department of Agriculture, E-Gen Tech. Rep., forthcoming, available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=3403088

Thomas W. Mitchell, Reforming Property Law to Address Devastating Land Loss, https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2516275 (provides a detailed section by section analysis of the UPHPA)

Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act on the Uniform Law Commission’s website: https://www.uniformlaws.org/committees/community-home?CommunityKey=50724584-e808-4255-bc5d-8ea4e588371d There are very helpful documents on this link under the “Documents” link including a “Legislative Tool Kit.”

The 2001 Associated Press article (part of an award winning three-part series called Torn From the Land) that served as the catalyst for the efforts to develop a model state statute is available at: https://theauthenticvoice.org/mainstories/tornfromtheland/torn_part5/

The Pew Charitable Trusts just published an article about the UPHPA: https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2019/06/18/new-laws-help-rural-black-families-fight-for-their-land

Spectrum News NY1 television station initially broadcast a segment on partition action abuses in New York City in mid-March 2019 and then broadcast another segment when the New York legislature passed our bills last Friday. The broadcast on Friday, June 21 can be found at: https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2019/06/22/partition-actions-limitation-bill-passes-new-york-state-legislature-after-ny1-investigation (it contains a hyperlink to the initial, mid-March broadcast)

The New Yorker, “Kicked Off the Land” by Lizzie Presser