HD4488: An Act relative to uniform partition of heirs property

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This session, Senator Eric Lesser and I have a filed a bill to fix a problem in property law. This bill helps preserve family wealth passed to future generations in the form of real property. Under Massachusetts state law if a landowner dies interstate, multiple heirs take ownership as tenants-in-common, an unstable form of ownership which can force a partition.

Right now in our state, many middle and low-income property owners, without estate planners or extensive legal help, either write a simple will to divide their property among their children, or die without any will written at all. In that scenario, the property owner’s descendants inherit their property as “tenants-in common.”

Tenants-in-common can sell off their part ownership of a home without getting the other co-tenants to agree. Not only does that allow one sibling to sell off part interest in the family home to a non-family member, but this has allowed real estate speculators to acquire a share of heirs’ property in order to file a partition action and force a sale. Using this tactic, an investor can acquire the entire parcel for a price drastically below fair market value, which depletes a family’s inherited wealth in the process.

My bill preserves the right of a co-tenant to sell his or her interest in inherited real estate, while ensuring that the other co-tenants will have the necessary due process to prevent a forced sale: notice, appraisal, and right of first refusal. If the other co-tenants do not exercise their right to purchase property from the seller, the court must order a partition-in-kind if feasible, and if not, a commercially reasonable sale for fair market value.