How to Divide Inherited Land

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Inheriting property can create a great opportunity or a huge amount of stress for heirs.  When an estate is vague about the division directions, heirs can be left confused or hurt by the end result. When planning your estate, be sure to keep your property divisions specific in order to avoid leaving your heirs with a potential who-gets-what argument. However, if you inherit property that needs to be divided, there are a few requirements that you should keep in mind.

  1. First of all, dividing up a larger area of land requires knowledge of legal requirements of the county and state the property is located in.  Contact the county zoning office, ask about any legal restrictions, and find information on the approval process needed for your specific case.  Each county will have different laws and requirements based on the way the land has been used and the way you plan to use the land after dividing it. This is particularly true in Napa County and other agrarian communities where zoning requirements and subdivision restrictions may preclude subdivision. In addition, the property may be subject to other agreements (e.g. Williamson Act contracts on conservation easements) that limit or restrict the subdivision of the property.
  2. Next, contact a title company or an attorney to complete a title search on the property.  A title search or report is a document that tells you the restrictions and encumbrances on the land, whether there are any pending tax payments, and informs you of any other issues or judgments.  Typically, in cases where the property is inherited, the title search will not be completed.  Online transfers of property involving unrelated properties in connection with the transfer.
  3. After ensuring that there are no adverse title issues with the property and confirming that subdividing the land is feasible, contact a surveyor in your area.  If you have a copy of a recent survey of the land, provide it for the surveyor.  Also provide information about the plans to divide the land and legal requirements from the county.  The surveyor will complete research on the property and could discover a legal restriction that the county missed.
  4. Be sure to review the completed survey before recording it with the county.  A survey should include all of the requested divisions and a legal description.  Discuss any questions you have with the surveyor and finalize your plans with the other involved parties. 
  5. Submit the survey and related materials to the county in compliance with the county’s subdivision application process. 

The amount of time needed to complete the process and the cost to record the survey can vary greatly from county to county.   These variations depend on laws and requirements from the state, but can also be majorly affected by the specific requests and cooperation of the parties involved in the division.  For advice on your specific case, contact the attorneys at Gaw Van Male for expert estate planning and real property law advice. 

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About David Gaw

Little more than a year after graduating sixth in his class from University of California Hastings School of Law, Dave co-founded in 1972 with Nick Van Male the law firm of Gaw Van Male. It has since grown to five principals, 28 attorneys, more than 40 staff members, and is the largest law firm in Napa Valley and Solano County.

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