WEST ASHLEY SC (WCSC) - Jennie Stephens is working to educate a community.
The Executive Director of The Center for Heirs Property Preservation, Stephens says her office has tracked more than 40,000 acres of heirs property across seven counties in South Carolina, with Berkeley County among the highest rates.
Heirs property is land passed down without a will, often to multiple owners, with no clear title within a ten year period identifying who the owners are.
"No one teaches you in school, in elementary or high school, what it is you do when your loved one dies."
Instead, she says many rural families transferred land by word of mouth, with the last known legal document often dating back to the early 1900's.
Stephens says this property isn't an asset families can sell, or use, until the title issues have been resolved.
"If it's not in writing, it's not valid," she said.
The Center, located on Sam Rittenberg Boulevard in West Ashley, started as a project at the Coastal Community Foundation in 2002, and was established as an independent non-profit in 2005.
Over the last decade, the Center has provided legal services and education to thousands, clearing 123 titles on family land with an assessed total value of $6.2 million.
"It's a protection," Stephens said.
"We meet landowners all the time who believe if they leave their land as heirs property, that is the greatest way to protect their community."
"Once this land is lost, also the culture that we all love and why a lot of people are moving to South Carolina, it's lost."
For more information on the Center, and its services, visit