Congresswomen Nikema Williams and Lizzie Fletcher Introduce Legislation to Provide Funds to Help Families Secure Generational Wealth, Receive Disaster Relief

Apr 24, 2024

(WASHINGTON) – On Tuesday, Congresswoman Nikema Williams (GA-05) a member of the Financial Services Committee and the Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance, Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher (TX-07), Congressman Emanuel Cleaver (MO-05), and Congressman Byron Donalds (FL-19) introduced the Heirs’ Estate Inheritance Resolution and Succession (HEIRS) Act which incentivizes states to adopt the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act and provides grant funds for legal assistance for heirs’ property owners to clear title. Heirs’ property is family land inherited without a will or legal documentation of ownership. Senator Laphonza Butler (D-CA) will introduce companion legislation in the U.S. Senate. 

The second bill in the package, the Heirs Empowerment and Inheritance Rights (HEIR) Act was introduced by  Congresswomen Williams and Fletcher, and will allow heirs’ property owners to use alternate forms of documentation to prove property ownership to receive disaster aid.  

Congresswoman Nikema Williams (GA-05), a member of the Financial Services Committee and the Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance said:

“Black families face numerous barriers that are intentionally designed to make transferring heirs’ property difficult. I’ve lived this as my family’s land in rural Alabama was informally passed down for generations, including to me. After our property taxes increased, we had to plan how to protect our land and eventually we made it work. For far too many Black families, their story doesn’t end that way. The HEIRS Act will equip families with the resources necessary to ensure the family home stays in the family, helping to create generational wealth and close the racial wealth gap.”

Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher (TX-07) said: 

“These bills are meaningful steps toward increasing resources and access to justice for heirs’ property owners. We have seen the devastating consequences heirs’ property owners have faced following natural disasters and forced sales of property over many years.  I am glad to work with Congresswoman Williams and Congressman Cleaver to help address the injustices that result from involuntary land loss and unequal access—past and present—that this legislation seeks to address.”

Congressman Emanuel Cleaver (MO-05) said: 

“Property ownership is one of the best tools we have to close the racial wealth gap, build generational wealth, and provide economic justice to underserved communities. But far too often, heirs’ property owners are excluded from accessing equity, financing, or government programs due to land or real estate that was historically inherited without clear title or documentation. As the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance, I’m proud to join Reps. Williams and Fletcher to introduce this legislative package that will help ensure heirs’ property owners and their descendants have the legal authority to manage property in a way that benefits their families and communities.”

Senator Laphonza Butler (D-CA) said: 

“Families who have lost loved ones should not be forced to deal with the anxiety or stress of losing their homes or property. We need the Heirs’ Property Act to help close legal loopholes and ensure people’s rightful claim to property can stay in the family.Congress has a responsibility to support surviving relatives with the resources needed to maintain home ownership and build intergenerational wealth.”

The HEIRS Act is endorsed by: American Land Title Association, National Fair Housing Alliance, National Association of Real Estate Brokers, National Low Income Housing Coalition, National Consumer Law Center, National Housing Resource Center, National Association of Realtors, and Urban League of Greater Atlanta.

Urban League of Greater Atlanta President Nancy Flake Johnson said: 

“The Urban League of Greater Atlanta proudly endorses the Heirs’ Estate Inheritance Resolution and Succession Act introduced by Congresswoman Nikema Williams. This Act represents a huge step forward in protecting landowners’ rights to pass land to their descendants. This Act will help advance the Urban League’s mission of promoting economic justice and closing the nation’s detrimental racial wealth gap. The HEIRS Act seeks to resolve a serious impediment to wealth-building which landholders – especially Black landowners – have faced because they could not prove ownership of property in their family for generations. The HEIRS Act calls for grants to be awarded to families who have fallen victim to these circumstances and will reverse a practice that has been perpetuated for centuries against families who did not have the means or knowledge of how to obtain deeds or other legal documents to prove ownership and were forced to give up property their parents and grandparents left to them upon their passing. HEIRS Act grants will not only pay for families to obtain legal assistance to document land ownership, but it will also help educate families on ways to avoid the pitfalls that cost them and their ancestors billions of dollars in losses over the years. As families build generational wealth through land ownership, they also build financial stability, sustainability, well-being, and thriving communities. Through farming, agri-business endeavors, and/or other uses of their properties, families will be able to generate increased household income, advance the quality of life for themselves and their families, and make greater contributions to their communities and society.” 

Diane Tombe, CEO of American Land Title Association said

“On behalf of title companies in every county nationwide, who work tirelessly every day to protect the American dream of homeownership, we commend the leadership of Representative Nikema Williams on the introduction of Heirs’ Estate Inheritance Resolution and Succession (HEIRS) Act. Too many families across the country are harmed by the issue of heirs’ property, threatened with the possibility of losing their home and the wealth that it represents. Title agents work with families every day that are negatively impacted by these circumstances and understand the positive impact this legislation will have on protecting homeownership and wealth creation for millions of Americans. We look forward to working with Congress to pass this legislation and continuing the fight to protect homeownership for all communities and households nationwide.”

Heirs’ property is found most predominantly among Black landholders, beginning during Reconstruction and continuing through the Jim Crow era, when many Black people lacked access to the legal system and could not draft legally binding wills.  It is also an issue for Hispanic families in the southwest, Indigenous families on reservations, and underserved families in Appalachia.  Heirs’ property owners are particularly vulnerable to speculators and developers who can use laws and loopholes to acquire their property.  For example, speculators and developers can offer to buy out the interest of one heir for a small price and then force a full sale as a fractional owner. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has recognized heirs’ property as the leading cause of Black involuntary land loss, having contributed to land loss ranging from 4.7 million to 16 million acres over the last hundred years.  Heirs’ property is estimated to make up more than a third of Southern Black-owned land — 3.5 million acres, worth more than $28 billion.

If enacted, the HEIR Act would permit the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to assist heirs’ property owners with obtaining clear legal title to their properties as part of HUD’s homeownership counseling services.  It would also allow alternate forms of ownership documentation to be shown when applying for Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery assistance.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency already allows alternate forms of ownership documentation for those applying for disaster relief. 

Click here to read the full text of the HEIRS Act.

Click here for a one pager on the HEIRS Act.  

Click here to read the full text of the HEIR Act.


Congresswoman Nikema Williams proudly serves Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District on the exclusive Financial Services Committee. She is a champion of voting rights and builds on the Fifth District’s legacy as the cradle of the civil rights movement as co-chair of the Congressional Voting Rights Caucus. Congresswoman Williams is committed to closing the racial wealth gap and ensuring the promise of America for all–regardless of your ZIP code or bank account.


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