Leaving a legacy, not a burden

By James Roberts, Senior Director of Neighborhood Development

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Without a will, many homes are left with no clear owner and become an heir property — a property that has been inherited by relatives of the last property owner.

The Problem

Heir property is one of the greatest contributing factors to blight in any medium to large size City, Mobile included.  Although most consider crime, poverty, lack of commercial development, and a high unemployment rate to be the leading contributors to blighted properties, heir property is the most significant.  While all cause the downward spiral of a neighborhood, the spiral begins with an heir property.

These types of properties are often not transferred properly or are transferred to multiple heirs. This is particularly a problem when the heirs include multiple generations and are long distance. The once vibrant home becomes forgotten, abandoned and unmaintained.

Whether it is having no will in place at time of death or having the best intentions of leaving each child with a piece of the house, heir property leaves open the door to cause a fight for the property, for heirs to withdraw equity and walk away, or for the heir with the least resources to move in because it is “free”. All of these issues, in turn, lead to higher tax defaults and deferred maintenance costs that put the property under water with no way back for the family.  The problem is also sometimes compounded when the heirs recognize the potential issues early on and choose to ignore them for too long because of the sentimental value placed on the property, usually relating to the former owner and what once was.  Too often, we see homes demolished because the heirs let the property go so far that there is no way back.

The Solution

Because this issue is so common, the City of Mobile is introducing a will program to reduce blight and revitalize our neighborhoods. Facilitated by Legal Services of Alabama, LLC, the “leaving a legacy” program will provide wills free of charge to those who qualify.  As this program takes shape, the City will require that all housing assistance applicants have a will in place by the time of assistance. The goal is to have as many residents with wills as possible so that the multi-generational loss of wealth is not passed down to future generations.

This program is one more piece to the puzzle to restoring our historic neighborhoods and leads us farther on the path to becoming to becoming the safest, most business and family-friendly City.