Across the country heirs’ property issues are a leading cause of Black involuntary land loss. Maryland is not exempt from this problem. Thousands of Marylanders, particularly Black homeowners, are dealing with heirs property or tangled titles. For many of these families, their home is the single largest and most important asset that they own. The family home is not just a major economic resource that can build generational wealth, it’s also the emotional cornerstone of the family. There are often lifetimes of memories in the home and it is critical that the home and the memories stay in the family for future generations. The best way to ensure that this happens is through proper estate planning, but that does not always happen and tangled title issues arise – leading to the loss of land and the extraction of wealth in Black communities.
A person has a tangled title when they are the occupant of a home and they have a legal interest in the home, but their name is not on the property’s deed. A common example that we encounter at MVLS is when an adult child has lived in their parents’ home their entire life. If the parents pass away without adding the child to the deed or leaving the property through a will, the home will remain in the deceased parent’s name. Even though the child has stepped into the homeowners’ shoes and may be now paying mortgage payments, property taxes, utility payments, and maintaining general upkeep, they are not the legal owner of the property. As a result of the child not being on the deed, there are several critical housing stability programs that are completely inaccessible to the occupant and the home becomes significantly more likely to be lost to the family.
Tackling this issue head on is a priority at MVLS and we are committed to addressing the inequities that arise as a result. In addition to direct representation and legislative advocacy, MVLS has partnered with organizations across the nation, to bring awareness to this issue and discuss systemic solutions. In that effort, on June 29, 2022, MVLS’ Tangled Title Attorney, Tim Chance, participated in a webinar jointly hosted by Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond to discuss how Heirs’ Property/Tangled Titles disproportionately impact both urban and rural Black homeowners and landowners. The webinar, titled Maintaining Property through Intergenerational Wealth: Heirs’ Property/Tangled Titles, also included speakers from the National Agriculture Law Center, Black Belt Justice Center, Centro de Apoyo Familiar, the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Tim Chance spoke about MVLS’ My Home My Deed, My Legacy program and the work that MVLS has been doing to address this issue, particularly our Homeowner clinics and pro bono representation in Baltimore City probate cases.
This is critical work and there remains much more to do.