Preventing Heirs Property and Increasing Agricultural Sustainability: A Training for Extension Agents and Limited Resource Farmers in Rural Georgia

Progress report for LS20-328

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2020: $50,000.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2022
Grant Recipient: Georgia Heirs Property Law Center, Inc
Region: Southern
State: Georgia
Principal Investigator:
Skipper StipeMaas
The Georgia Heirs Property Law Center, Inc.
Co-Investigators:
Delene Porter
Georgia Heirs Property Law Center, Inc
Wanda Strickland
The Georgia Heirs Property Law Center, Inc.
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Project Information

Abstract:

Heirs property, or land with unclear title, adversely impacts agricultural sustainability because its multiple owners (also known as “tenants in common”) are unable to leverage the economic and agricultural best management practices to farm, timber, and conserve their land or pass that wealth to the next generation. In Georgia, 10-25% of the properties have been identified as probable heirs property meaning that there is over $34 billion tax-appraised land that is essentially “locked equity,” contributing to unmanaged farmland and generational poverty throughout the state. Through a hybrid Train-the-Trainer and Direct Training model, the Georgia Heirs Property Law Center, Inc.’s “Preventing Heirs Property and Increasing Agricultural Sustainability: A Training for Extension Agents and Limited-Resource Farmers in Rural Georgia” will address the lack of understanding and myths around heirs property and how preventing and resolving heirs property will achieve greater agricultural sustainability by providing training to Ft. Valley’s Cooperative Extension Agents and Limited-Resource Farmers in Rural Georgia. This project will refine and deliver quality educational materials and a curriculum on Heirs Property & Best Land Management Practices to landowners through three Mini-Landowner-Academies and provide Technology Transfer to Ft. Valley’s Extension Agents of newly developed Estate Planning Tools created by the Center in collaboration with the State Bar of Georgia’s Estate Planning Law Section and considered Georgia’s gold standard documents in estate planning. Materials for the trainings are being provided in-kind through the Center’s partnership with the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta.

Project Objectives:

Objective #1: Technology Transfer of New Estate Planning Tools- The Center will provide Ft. Valley’s Extension Agents with training on 1) heirs property’s impact on agricultural sustainability, 2) the life-cycle of the title clearing process, and 3) new estate planning tools to prevent heirs property. The Center is working with the Fiduciary Law Section of the State Bar of Georgia on the development of comprehensive estate planning forms and education materials that will be made available to the Agents.

Objective #2: Refine/Deliver Heirs Property for Agricultural Sustainability Curriculum- Limited-Resource Farmers will receive direct training through Mini-Landowner-Academies, two-day intensive courses, on best management agricultural practices; navigating the new Farm Bill with heirs property; and on-site technical assistance for clearing heirs property and creating an estate plan.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Marc Thomas (Educator)

Research

Involves research:
No
Participation Summary

Education

Educational approach:

The educational approach is based on 1) the Center’s successful track record delivering Heirs Property and Sustainable Agriculture Training and Technical Assistance to Limited-Resource Farmers through its Georgia Landowner Academies; 2) feedback received from Landowner Academy participants requesting in-depth outreaches and estate planning services; and 3) requests from Extension Agents and heirs property owners on the updated laws and best practices related to Estate Planning. 

Through a Train-the-Trainer model, Center staff meet regularly with Ft. Valley’s Cooperative Extension Agents to explore Estate Planning best practices and heirs property in the context of promoting agricultural sustainability. Through iterative feedback with the Agents, the Center has developed quality educational materials and a refined curriculum for both Agents and their constituents- farm and timberland owners- that covers the new Estate Planning Tools, Frequently Asked Questions, the Life-Cycle of an Heirs Property Case.  As part of reinforcing new skills and knowledge, Ft. Valley’s Cooperative Extension Agents have been engaged in delivering Estate Planning information to their constituents through 5 in-depth Estate Planning outreaches.  

Educational & Outreach Activities

20 Consultations
7 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 Online trainings
1 Published press articles, newsletters
5 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary

160 Farmers
21 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:
  • Objective #1: Technology Transfer of New Estate Planning Tools- The Center will provide Ft. Valley’s Extension Agents with training on 1) heirs property’s impact on agricultural sustainability, 2) the lifecycle of the title clearing process, and 3) new estate planning tools to prevent heirs property. The Center is working with the Fiduciary Law Section of the State Bar of Georgia on the development of comprehensive estate planning forms and education materials that will be made available to the Agents.

Objective #1 Deliverables:

Estate Planning Tools, Curricula, Factsheets, and Educational Tools: During the grant reporting period, the Center created/released 7 educational tools-

  • On May 7, 2020, the Center released Myths & Facts: Heirs Property in Georgia, a pdf and hardcopy resource for Agents, nonprofits, and families learning about Estate Planning and heirs property. Since its release, selected Myths & Facts as well as an Op Ed piece written by the Center have been published in the Farmers and Consumers Market Bulletin, a century-old newspaper produced by the Georgia Department of Agriculture.
  • The Georgia Estate Planning Handbook for Communities was created to help community leaders, nonprofits, and cooperative extension agents begin conversations in their communities about estate planning, a powerful tool for building generational wealth and preventing heirs property. This Handbook was a response to the need for consistent, high quality estate planning training materials in the State of Georgia. The goal of this document was not to provide estate planning, but to familiarize community leaders, nonprofits, and cooperative extension agents with estate planning terminology and what estate planning entails. The Center completed and released the Georgia Estate Planning Handbook for Communities on June 23, 2020 and made it available through the Center’s website. 
  • The Georgia Estate Planning Handbook for Nonprofit Law Firms and Their Pro Bono Attorneys was created as a response to the need for standardized, easy to use forms and training materials in light of the fact that volunteer attorneys have varying degrees of estate planning experience and each nonprofit law firm and program differ depending on clients being served. The Center, also, has created protocols for virtual estate plan executions using video conferencing and other online or mobile software that were included in this handbook which was released on August 25, 2020.
  • Three (3) different PowerPoint templates were developed to train Cooperative Extension Agents and landowners about 1) heirs property’s impact on agricultural sustainability, 2) the lifecycle of the title clearing process, and 3) new estate planning tools to prevent heirs property. (see webinar descriptions under Objective #2 Deliverables).
  • One (1) commercial was created to market the March 18, 2021 Estate Planning Basics webinar. This commercial was filmed via zoom with Center staff, Ft. Valley Cooperative Extension Agents, and a UGA Cooperative Extension Agents performing the role of staff on a “Monday morning zoom” and exploring some of the misconceptions about Estate Planning. This commercial has had over 320 views on FaceBook pointing to the interest in information about Estate Planning in a user-friendly formats. 

Technology Transfer: Center staff and Ft. Valley Agents began meeting via Zoom bi-weekly (20 consultations over the course of the year) to develop an outreach strategy; plan large-scale Zoom presentations (since in-person meetings were not an option during COVID-19); and create educational materials.

On June 26, 2020, Center staff provided an Online Training for Ft. Valley State University’s 15 Cooperative Extension Agents on heirs property’s impact on agricultural sustainability, the lifecycle of the title clearing process, and how proper Estate Planning prevents heirs property. The training included a Q&A session where agents asked questions about the presentation, the Georgia Estate Planning Handbook for Communities, and scenarios they have encountered. In response to increased attention on Estate Planning, Ft. Valley’s agents decided to form an Estate Planning Committee to develop Estate Planning outreaches for Limited-Resource Farmers and residents of South Georgia. In addition to providing capacity building for Ft. Valley’s Agents, the Center was able to provide training for staff of the Georgia Forestry Commission, Coastal Regional Commission, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the Georgia Alabama Land Trust and UGA Cooperative Extension for a total of 21 Ag Professionals reached.

Moving into the SARE grant’s second year, Ft. Valley’s Estate Planning Committee will be working on the creation of videos about components of a complete Estate Plan-  an Advance Directive for Healthcare, a Financial Power of Attorney, a Last Will and Testament, and language that prevents the creation of heirs property. These videos will be paired with handouts/printed materials and a Zoom session will be held with each video so that viewers can have a more in-depth conversation about each subject.

 

  • #2: Refine/Deliver Heirs Property for Agricultural Sustainability Curriculum- Limited-Resource Farmers will receive direct training through Mini-Landowner-Academies, two-day intensive courses, on best management agricultural practices; navigating the new Farm Bill with heirs property; and on-site technical assistance for clearing heirs property and creating an estate plan.

 

Objective #2 Deliverables:

Due to social-distancing requirements of COVID-19, Ft. Valley’s Cooperative Extension Agents and Center Staff pivoted to virtual workshops to serve Limited-Resource Farmers. The Center and Ft. Valley have delivered 5 presentations to 551 attendees, surveyed attendees, and debriefed the results to determine next steps. Providing these trainings via the internet made them more broadly accessible. Given the targeted marketing conducted by Ft. Valley and partners, the Center estimates that a minimum of 160 of the attendees were farm and timber landowners with limited resources for Estate Planning and heirs property resolution. 

Estate Planning Basics Webinar: The Center hosted a webinar on June 16, 2020 entitled “Estate Planning Basics: What It Is and How to Talk About It,” with 120+ registrants. Ft. Valley State University’s Cooperative Extension Agents were invited to participate. The webinar focused on estate planning as a way of preventing heirs property and passing wealth to the next generation through real property management. Discussing heirs property in the context of estate planning helped attendees understand how tangled title impacts the ability of future generations to manage land, timber, and natural resources as well as access USDA and other financing programs. Registrants came from 49 counties across Georgia (Adel, Alcovy, Alpharetta, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Bacon Co, Blairsville, Cairo, Camilla, Cedartown, Columbus, Conyers, Cordele, Covington, Dalton, Dawsonville, Douglas, Douglasville, Dublin, Eastman, Elberton, Gainesville, Griffin, Hephzibah, Hinesville, Houston, Jonesboro, LaGrange, Mableton, Macon, Madison, Marietta, McDonough, Millin, Monroe, Newnan, Peachtree City, Pine Mountain, Rome, Savannah, Smyrna, Stone Mountain, Sylvester, Thomasville, Tifton, Vienna, Warner Robins, Winder). Registrants also came from other states: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas.  The webinar will continue to be available for viewing at https://youtu.be/lRRAVMtoodY  

Preserving Family Heritage Webinar: In partnership with Ft. Valley State University’s Cooperative Extension Agents, the Center conducted a Zoom presentation on September 24, 2020 entitled “Preserving Family Heritage,” to 130 participants on Zoom and 490 via Facebook Live for a total of 620.  Registration included Cooperative Extension Agents (Ft. Valley and UGA), and USDA representatives registered from 60 counties (Banks, Ben Hill, Bibb, Catoosa, Chatham, Cherokee, Clarke, Clayton, Cobb, Coffee, Colquitt, Columbia, Coweta, Decatur, Dekalb, Dooly, Dougherty, Echols, Elbert, Fayette, Fulton, Glynn, Greene, Gwinnett, Hall, Henry, Houston, Irwin, Jackson, Jefferson, Laurens, Lee, Liberty, Long, Lowndes, Macon, McIntosh, Mitchell, Muscogee, Oconee, Oglethorpe, Peach, Randolph, Richland, Screven, Sumter, Talbot, Tarrant, Tattnall, Taylor, Tift, Twiggs, Union, Upson, Walton, White, Wilcox, Wilkinson, Worth). In addition to the Georgians registered, there were 24 registrants from 11 other states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, New York, South Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin). The webinar is permanently archived and available on Ft. Valley’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/FVSUCAFST/videos/vb.2323590107663992/3295908 95130436/?type=2&theater

“Tangled Title and Timber: Resolving Heirs Property to Manage Your Woods as a Resource”: On November 18 and 19, 2020, the Center conducted a two-part workshop targeting timberland owners in on Georgia’s coast. In addition to Estate Planning, this presentation aimed to connect timberland owners with Georgia Forestry Commission resources; identify timberland owners with heirs property issues; and provide information and resources to timberland heirs property owners with an emphasis on residents in the coastal counties of Liberty, Evans, Camden, McIntosh, Bryan, Tattnall, and Long.

The November 18th Training Webinar supported landowners impacted by heirs property, explored how to manage timber/land as a resource, and discussed how to preserve land for future generations through Estate Planning. The webinar had 86 registrants and 51 participants. Participants joined from 39 counties including at least one participant from each of the target counties; 13 participants owned property in the target counties. The following counties were represented: Blount, Bulloch, Camden, Carroll, Chatham, Chattahoochee, Chesterfield, Clarke, Clayton, Cobb, Coweta, Cuyahoga, Dallas, DeKalb, Dougherty, Fulton, Glynn, Greene, Gwinnett, Hall, Harris, Horry, Jefferson, Laurens, Liberty, Long, Lowndes, Montgomery, Morgan, Marion, Polk, Putnam, Tattnall, Warren, Wayne, and Wilkes. In addition, the webinar was attended by people from 11 states outside of Georgia (AL, FL, IN, KY, LA, MI, NC, OH, SC, TX, WI).  The webinar was recorded and each registrant was emailed a link to re-watch and share: https://youtu.be/zrjOQmM-PWo

The November 19th Townhall provided a more intimate Question and Answer session for landowners to receive additional information about heirs property, managing timber, and conservation easements. Twenty-two registered and 12 attended. Participants joined the meeting from 9 counties (Bryan, Liberty, Dougherty, Marion, Fulton, Camden, Tattnall, Appling, Chatham). Participants asked questions exploring how heirs property hinders timber management for economic and environmental sustainability.

Following the two-part workshop, an evaluation was sent to all registrants.  One hundred percent of the participants who responded agreed strongly or somewhat strongly that the webinar was valuable, informational, and a good use of their time. When asked if they learned more about Georgia Forestry Commission programs, 66.7% of participants strongly agreed. The Center has also received two calls for additional services. The recorded webinar will continue to be a resource for landowners in Georgia’s rural, coastal Counties as they seek to manage their property can be a resource now and in the future.

Webinar: “Timber and Tangled Title: Resolving Heirs Property to Manage Your Woods as a Resource.”

Don’t Spend Your Pines Webinar: In partnership with Fort Valley State University Cooperative Extension, the Georgia Forestry Commission, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and Golden Triangle RC&D, the Center conducted a webinar on December 9, 2020 entitled “Don’t Spend Your Pines: Managing Timber, Hunting Leases, and Heirs Property for Generational Wealth.” The webinar had 92 registrants from 36 unique counties and 11 unique states. Counties included Baldwin, Bibb, Brantley, Brooks, Bulloch, Chatham, Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, Coffee, Columbia, DeKalb, Dougherty, Effingham, Fulton, Glynn, Greene, Gwinnett, Hall, Houston, Jones, Long, Lowndes, Macon, McIntosh, Mitchell, Muscogee, Newton, Oglethorpe, Peach, Polk, Richmond, Spalding, Tift, Wayne, and Wheeler. o States included AR, CA, DE, FL, GA, MI, MS, NC, NY, SC, and TX.

Of the attendees surveyed, 100% strongly agreed or somewhat agreed that they learned new and valuable information from this workshop. 100% strongly agreed that the workshop was a good use of their time. When asked if they learned more about Georgia Forestry Commission and Department of Natural Resources Programs, 67% strongly agreed or somewhat agreed; no one disagreed. When asked the same about Cooperative Extension programs, 66% strongly agreed or somewhat agreed; no one disagreed. 

When asked was most valuable about this workshop, attendees left the following comments:

  • The information on heirs property and the need to put people in charge so the land can provide generational wealth.
    • Being able to identify employees from Georgia Wildlife and Georgia Forestry Commission.
    • Heirs property and available USDA programs. ‐ Information provided and options to attend workshop. Thanks
    • Continue to provide workshops. Please provide something on sheep and fish management programs/services available in developing.
    • I think a workshop targeting local leadership, such as county commissioners and mayors, would be beneficial as their constituents might have approached them with these kinds of questions.
    • This webinar is fantastic, thank you for putting it on today. I would really like to have a copy of the PowerPoint presentations and share with my parents—landowners in Coffee County!
    • I was on the webinar this morning and would like to obtain a copy of the power point to share with my family members during our next family meeting, to discuss moving forward with our property. 

Five participants requested and were sent the PowerPoint as a pdf. In addition, all registrants were emailed a link to the recorded webinar to re‐watch or share. Within a week the webinar has already been viewed 15 times.   https://www.gaheirsproperty.org/webinars/2020/12/11/dont‐spend‐your‐pines‐ managing‐timber‐hunting‐leases‐and‐heirs‐property‐for‐generational‐wealth

Webinar: “Don’t Spend Your Pines: Managing Timber, Hunting Leases, and Heirs Property for Generational Wealth.”

Preserving Family Heritage Webinar: Following the success of the September 24th session, the Center and Ft. Valley State University partnered to host a second session of “Preserving Family Heritage” on March 18, 2021.  146 attended via Zoom and 345 were reached through Facebook and a “commercial” the Center created for the March 18th event for a total of 491. Registrants came from 78 counties (Bacon, Baldwin, Banks, Bartow, Ben Hill, Berrien, Bibb, Bryan, Burke, Chatham, Clarke, Clayton, Cobb, Coweta, Crawford, Crisp, Decatur, Dekalb, Dooly, Dougherty, Effingham, Elbert, Fannin, Fayette, Forsyth, Franklin, Fulton, Glynn, Grady, Greene, Gwinnett, Habersham, Hall, Hancock, Henry, Houston, Irwin, Jackson, Jefferson, Jenkins, Lamar, Laurens, Lee, Liberty, Long, Lowndes, Macon, Madison, Marion, McIntosh, Meriweather, Mitchell, Morgan, Muscogee, Oconee, Oglethorpe, Paulding, Peach, Pierce, Putnam, Randolph, Rockdale, Spalding, Sumter, Talbot, Taylor, Telfair, Thomas, Troup, Truetlen, Turner, Twiggs, Upson, Walton, Washington, Webster, Wilcox, Worth). 

Learning Outcomes

160 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation

Project Outcomes

3 Grants received that built upon this project
2 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

Land with unclear title adversely impacts agricultural sustainability because multiple heirs are unable to leverage the economic and agricultural best management practices to farm, timber, and conserve their property. Because each heir has “equal rights to full use and possession of the property,” heirs property owners have a difficult time implementing soil health and conservation plans; placing conservation easements on land or wetlands; qualifying for Natural Disaster Relief funds following a storm; engaging in timber management and prescribed burns; qualifying for State and local Conservation Use tax exemptions so that more resources can be devoted to BMPs; and qualifying for housing rehab programs if they have a farmhouse on the land. The new Farm Bill allows heirs property owners to qualify for FSA numbers, but training on what this entails/unlocks must be provided.

Heirs Property is a disqualification for many assistance programs and affects many agencies simultaneously. Ultimately, Heirs Property affects Landowners ability to participate in programs and affects Cooperative Extension Agents ability to assist landowners. Therefore, Estate planning is critical for cooperative extension programs to:

  • Deliver Financial Literacy Programs;
  • Provide critical services to manage and build assets of homes and farms
  • Prevent loss of homes and farms;
  • Enable Best Management Practices of Conservation and Forestry Plans;
  • Manage timber through planting, controlled burns, harvesting and selling.

Preventing heirs property and transferring real property assets to the next generation in a way that ensures it can be managed properly requires Estate Planning. This project addresses heirs property to achieve greater agricultural sustainability by providing Estate Planning Technology Transfer to Cooperative Extension Agents and Direct Training to Limited-Resource Farmers in Rural Georgia through a hybrid train-the-trainer and direct-training model.

 

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.