Rebuilding Together Untangles Titles To Preserve Generational Wealth

by Chad Magaziner, Director, Strategic Partnerships at Rebuilding Together National
May 22, 2024 10:00 AM ET
Individuals in front of their homes.
Neighbors receive educational outreach, free legal assistance and estate planning services.

The question of who will inherit your home when you pass away is a difficult question to face. It’s often left on the backburner when balancing the demands of everyday life, meeting the needs of your children, maintaining a home, caring for parents or other family members and making a living—all while grieving the loss of a loved one...

When left undone, a “tangled title” can result when a home is passed down informally from generation to generation, often because homeowners pass away without a will. When a home’s occupant is unable to prove homeownership because their name does not appear on the deed, the land is considered jointly owned by all heirs – split among multiple family members regardless of whether they currently live there, have ever lived there or paid the taxes. 
As this critical issue effects homeownership, especially within low-income communities, Rebuilding Together launched the Heirs' Property pilot initiative in 2022 to provide educational outreach, free legal assistance and estate planning services to neighbors in Philadelphia, Baton Rouge, and Kent County, Md. These resources include support for individuals who need help writing a will or who are already facing challenges due to a tangled title. 

While nationwide research is limited, in Philadelphia alone, a recent report from Pew Charitable Trusts revealed that more than 10,400 homes have unclear legal ownership, with a collective value of more than $1.1 billion, contributing to a cycle of instability and posing a significant barrier to affordable housing. 
With support from Wells Fargo, the Heirs’ Property pilot initiative is helping families untangle titles and preserve generational wealth, and the success of the program sets the stage for broader implementation across all Rebuilding Together affiliates. To formalize the practice of providing this support to homeowners, educational sessions were offered at our annual network gathering, known as Summit, and there are plans to develop a self-guided course for affiliates to learn more about heirs’ issues and the resources needed to react accordingly when encountering such situations. Insights and lessons learned unfold as the program evolves to address title issues and preserve generational wealth for homeowners in need. 

Since 2010, Wells Fargo has donated more than $19 million to Rebuilding Together and its affiliate network to support rebuilding efforts across the country, including providing essential home repairs, revitalizing communities, and helping veterans, older adults, people with disabilities, families with children and victims of disaster remain in their homes.