Adverse Possession – Protect Your Forefather’s Land
Many years ago, my great-great-grandfather was given several acres of land with the distinct understanding between him and the seller that the property is never to be sold. No one warned my generation to refrain from “neglect.”
The land has been worked year after year and yields a well-known company billions of dollars while our family has sat by scrambling to get by. Some family members have discouraged their children from going to college. Others have forfeited vacations. They simply can’t afford it.
When I was a kid, I used to watch old westerns. One of the issues encountered was people squatting on land they didn’t own. Lately, I’ve been dreaming about those westerns and I didn’t understand why until I received my monthly check from leasing proceeds.
I wondered if the proceeds from our property were fair. That thought made me nervous. After all, if there’s a problem, I might have to do something about it. I ditched the idea and focused on finishing my novel. My novel only acerbated the issue, because until now, I hadn’t realized that all the dreams, worries, and questions I had were seeping into the pages of my book. The revelation stunned me. I laughed for a moment. I shed a tear. Then I decided the time had come to use my fears as motivation.
Thoughts of losing our land were exorcised by an article I found entitled “Couple Loses Land to Squatter’s Rights Law”(1). This article is a precious gift to people like you and me. Before its discovery, I always assumed when you bought a piece of property, it was completely yours forever until you decided to sell it. We all might need to rethink this.
We can all sit back and blame covetous neighbors, greedy businessmen, or sibling rivalry for theft of our property. In the end, it’s our family’s fault for sitting on the backs of our forefathers who toiled endlessly to achieve the one thing they perceived to last from generation to generation-Land! We do a disservice to our forefathers when we squander what they worked so hard for. We owe it to them to do everything we can to preserve their legacy through our integrity and kindness toward others.
Since doing nothing exhibits no kindness to our ancestors, we ought to get busy putting our forefathers’ house back in order. With that in mind, I made a list of questions and searched the internet until I felt enough peace to appease my guilt.
Though the following steps may not be in the proper order, they are still relevant if you want to protect your family’s property.
1. Find out what the Land Squatters Law is in the state where your property is located.
2. If you don’t have a copy of the deed to the property, get one. You will need the property description. You may also need the deed in order to perform the next step.
3. Find out if an “adverse possession claim” has been filed against your property. If some greedy business or neighbor wants your property, they will most likely have to file a claim against it. It is possible this claim could be referred to by another name in other states. You will need to investigate this and get familiar with the correct terminology for the state in which the filing may have occurred.
4. Call the County Assessors’ Office where your land is located. They should direct you to a website where, hopefully, property owners are listed. If anyone other than your family is listed, be concerned. Get an attorney.
5. Be aware you can use the option of filing a trespassing action against the land user. Further investigate this option.
6. Be aware a court injunction can be filed that forbids the land user on the property. Further investigate this option.
7. If there’s a company leasing your property, get a copy of their annual report. I think it’s always a good idea to know how much companies are profiting from using our land.
8. Take pictures of your property. And I’d advise you to do this every year. Since my family lives in one state and our property is in another, this is a good idea so everyone knows, especially the next generation, what should or shouldn’t be on the property.
9. Hire a land surveyor. The sole purpose of a land surveyor is to measure the land to determine the boundaries and exact size of the property. Don’t take this step lightly. It will prove valuable in the end.
10. If your land is being leased to a company or individual, get a copy of the Lease Agreement. Pay special attention to how long the Lease Agreement is for, who the Lease Agreement is with, and how much are the monthly payments.
11. Have your land appraised. There can be a huge disparity between the fair market value and what you charge for a monthly lease for your land.
12. A year before the Lease Agreement expires; make sure monthly fees are comparable to the fair market value of your property, or to that of properties in the surrounding area.
13. Seek the advice of an attorney. I know what you’re thinking-it’s too costly. Most reputable attorneys won’t charge a consulting fee. Don’t be afraid to ask the attorney what you and your family can do to curtail costs. If your family is contentious, pray. If they are cooperative, you will be surprised how your issues with your property can bring you and your family closer together.
14. Don’t be selfish. The land belongs to the family, not one individual. All of you are important. If you have nine family members and you receive monthly lease payments in the amount of $1.00, split the dollar nine ways. Or come to an agreement to have the monies put in a special fund to be issued to each family member at a later designated time.
What I have written here does not include everything that can and should be done to protect your family’s assets. It will, however, get you started. Remember, you can’t go wrong by seeking the advice of an expert attorney who specializes in land law.
My family and I are learning more each day about how to be better stewards over our forefathers’ property. I look forward to continuing this discussion so I can share what additional information I’ve gathered and experienced. This has been a process, but one needed in order to recover from years of neglect.
We intend to make our great-great-grandfather proud. Hope you do the same. If not, next time you dig out your pennies to pay for college tuition, ask yourself this: “Did my grandfather’s ship come in and I just missed it?” Maybe you did.