Forestry Project’s webinar underscores importance of estate planning

“Absolutely fantastic!” “Great workshop!” “I learned a lot in a short time.” “One of the best webinars I’ve ever attended.”

These are just a few of the comments made by participants following the Estate Planning/Heirs Property  Feb. 24-25 webinar.

Approximately 100 people from a dozen states participated in the event, presented by the Sustainable Forestry and Land Retention Project .

Presenters shared examples of legal problems and family strife that often emerge  when property owners pass away without a will or other legal instruments indicating what they want for the future of their property. .

Participants also learned of the importance of aligning their efforts to generate revenue from their land with the property’s natural characteristics. The presentations also shed light on the   devastating woodland loss among African Americans over the past century, resulting not only from discrimination and unscrupulous practices, but also from the lack of effective estate planning.

“Typically, people don’t think about estate planning until the death of a family member who didn’t have one. That can cause a lot of family division and strife.,” said attorney Pamela Harrigan-Young of Raleigh. “It is very important to think about what scenarios could occur if you don’t have a will in place.”

Harrigan-Young detailed the different types of estate planning documents and emphasized the importance of customizing the tools to individual circumstances. For example, it should recognize the need for someone who is an agent under a healthcare power of attorney to be on speaking terms, at a minimum, with the party responsible for financial decisions.

“It can sometimes be overwhelming and even painful to have discussions about estate planning, but we can’t ignore the importance of keeping land in our family’s legacy,” said attorney Mavis Gragg, director of the American Forest Foundation’s Sustainable Forestry and Land Retention Program.

Noting her own experience as an inheritor of land, Gragg urged participants to make a family tree as a vital first step toward addressing heirs’ property issues. She counseled participants to be “very inclusive” in identifying potential heirs,  including adopted family members, in-laws and even non-blood relatives who might be considered “family.”

Only after creating a family tree should one retain an attorney to develop a chronology of property ownership, Gragg suggested. This will help families avoid incurring exorbitant legal fees.

Margaret Conrad and Peg Kohring, both land management experts with The Conservation Fund – a nonprofit environmental organization based in northern Virginia – led the webinar’s second session. They discussed leases, deeds and other legal mechanisms that govern land use, and identified opportunities to leverage one’s property to generate income.

“Leasing your land is a great source of supplemental income,” Conrad said. Other opportunities range from raking and selling long-leaf pine straw to selling credits that companies are willing to pay to offset their carbon emissions.

Kohring counseled landowners to walk their property with consulting foresters or other experts to identify the most feasible income opportunities appropriate to the property.

Since 2103, Roanoke Electric Cooperative has cosponsored the Sustainable Forestry and Land Retention Project. to . Logistical support this webinar was provided by the N.C. State Extension Forestry. The webinar was made possible through a grant from the North Carolina Bar Foundation.

Webinar presentations can be seen here.