Lawyer hired for land program at UAPB

Amy Pritchard has been hired as a consultant attorney in a program that provides educational resources and technical assistance to Black forest landowners to protect and to retain their family land for future generations.

She will work for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Keeping it in the Family (KIITF) Sustainable Forestry and African American Land Retention Program.

Pritchard has served as a partner for the KIITF Program since its inception in 2016. In that capacity, she has helped educate Arkansas forest landowners through the program’s in-person and virtual outreach meetings.

“As a legal consultant, my main responsibility is to provide legal education and information to family landowners and help family landowners to address and prevent problems associated with heirs’ property,” she said. “I started hearing about heirs’ property when I was a legal aid attorney and law professor nearly a decade ago. This type of property leaves families without the clear titles that allow for active management of the land, thereby limiting any economic returns.”

Challenges associated with heirs’ property status are the leading cause of involuntary land loss among Black farmers, Pritchard said. Heirs’ property refers to family-owned land passed down without a will and held by descendants as “tenants in common.”

In these cases, each owner has an undivided interest in the land. Historically, any owner or anyone that purchased a small interest in the land could file with the court to force other owners to sell. These “partition sales” often occur against the wishes of other family members. The result was often a sale that did not meet the fair market value and resulted in the dispossession of family members from their inherited land.

“Heirs’ property can involve some big challenges that have gone on for decades and won’t be fixed overnight,” she said. “For example, the current owner of some properties may have died for several decades, but the title has never been transferred to the current heirs. In these types of cases, there can be dozens of owners, if not hundreds.”

The good news, Pritchard says, is that it is a great time for families who want to work on issues related to their family land, as recent state and federal laws have recognized heirs’ property and helped open doors for heirs’ property landowners. For example, Arkansas is one of 23 states that passed the Uniform Partition of Heirs’ Property Act (UPHPA), which helps protect the interests and needs of vulnerable landowners.

The UPHPA protects heirs’ property from forced sales. Now, if one owner wishes to force a sale of the land, the other owners are first offered the opportunity to purchase that owner’s share. When a sale is ordered by a court, the UPHPA now requires the property to be sold at fair market value. Courts are also required to determine if the property can be divided among the heirs rather than being sold entirely.

Pritchard said his favorite part of involvement with UAPB’s KIITF Program is the people he works with. She appreciates that the project team members are passionate about helping individual families and implementing conservation practices with broad-reaching benefits.

“Dr Henry English [director of the UAPB Small Farm Program] and his team are passionate about the project’s mission and do amazing work connecting landowners with the program resources,” she said. “I love meeting these landowners and hearing their stories about the history of the land and the family’s vision for its future. I also love visiting and getting to know the rural communities of Arkansas.”

Pritchard earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington in Seattle in 2006 and her law degree from the Seattle University of Law in 2009.

She held positions as a visiting assistant professor and later as an assistant clinical professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law. She now manages Pritchard Law Firm in Little Rock.

Will Hehemann is a writer/editor at the UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences.

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