Unearthing ‘dead capital’: Heirs’ property prediction in two U.S. southern counties
Heirs’ property is a form of tenancy in common. It is typically inherited land passed to subsequent generations as
intestate property, or property inherited outside of the formal probate process, without “clear title.” In economic
terms, this form of property ownership can result in inefficient property uses, as owners tend to under-invest in
such properties, owing to uncertainties regarding returns on investments. This, in turn, contributes to a diminution
of wealth for affected families. Unclear titles also impede homeowners’ ability to apply for various forms of land and home improvement aid offered by federal agencies. As well, tenancies in common have the effect of intensifying already existing vulnerabilities of place, again, because constraints on homeowners’ access to equity make home improvements less likely.
The magnitude of the heirs’ property phenomenon is not well-understood. Extant estimates are dated and often not verifiable; and no systematic means of identifying these parcels has been accepted. We present a methodology for assessing the accuracy of predictors typically used to identify heirs’ parcels using logistic models and data from a rural Appalachian county (Leslie County, KY) and a more urban Black Belt1 county (Macon-Bibb County, GA). This is the first attempt to empirically examine these predictors. Year property was last sold and financial caretaker are the strongest predictors in both counties. Using these indicators, the percent of correctly predicted heirs’ parcels is about 67 percent in Leslie County and 48 percent in Macon-Bibb County. Applications of this methodology for national forest planning are discussed.