Community Development

All Land is not Creating Equal: Unleashing Family and Community Wealth through Land Ownership

Event information
Wed Nov 18, 2020
1:00pm - 7:00pm EDT
A Virtual Aspen Institute Event
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When it comes to the roots of wealth inequality in the United States, what is the “worst problem you never heard of”?  For many, that answer is a confounding phenomenon called “heirs’ property” or “fractionated land.” 

Heirs’ property is land that has been passed down through generations without a will – creating shared ownership among many descendants. Over time, unless title to the land is cleared and land rights secured, the opportunity for those owners to use their land for economic benefit is limited. As a result, underserved vulnerable landowners throughout the country – especially, women, indigenous people, Black Americans and the poor – have involuntarily lost their family property through contested claims, unaffordable high transaction costs, forced sales to speculators, and outright fraud. Black families alone, researchers estimate, have lost hundreds of billions of dollars in such land value over the last century. And the U.S. Department of Agriculture considers Heirs’ Property the “leading cause of Black involuntary land loss.” 

Fifteen years ago, most considered this complex problem intractable. In contrast, the Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation saw opportunity. The Center’s process has since helped families clear more than 200 titles, and its partnerships have fostered a landowner movement that is unleashing cultural and natural resources to build family and community wealth and ecological restoration in marginalized communities. Efforts alongside the Center – work in Native nations, among investors and researchers, and in state legislatures – are now likewise growing to secure family land ownership rights, stimulate economic growth and increase regional resilience. 

In celebration of the Center’s 15th anniversary – and the 35th anniversary of the Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group, which helped spark the Center’s start-up – we invite you to learn about the role of land in wealth inequality, about heirs’ property and fractionated land, and about strategies and policies that can address this issue to build rural regions and urban communities that are more inclusive and resilient. Join us for any or all of these insightful-and-action-provoking sessions!


Plenary 1:00 – 3:00 p.m. ET
Learn the context of heirs’ property and the Center’s work through plenary conversations and video presentations.

Breakout Discussions: 3:30 – 5:30 p.m. ET
Two back-to-back breakout sessions to explore topics that interest you.

Special Event 6:00 – 7:00 p.m. ET
Screening of America’s Forests with Chuck Leavell of the Rolling Stones, featuring the Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation.

Register Here