A relatively new Alabama law prevents the involuntary loss of real property inherited with other family members. In order for the law to apply at least 20% of the owners must be relatives or must have acquired the land through a relative.
Typically, if someone dies owning real property either without a Will or with a Will that just gives the property to heirs or unspecified family, it is considered to be “heir property” and is owned by family members, each owning an undivided interest as tenants in common. This means that, ordinarily, any one of the owners can sell their undivided interest in the property (if a buyer can be found), force the sale of all the property or give the interest to whomever he/she pleases.
The process to sell or divide the property is typically commenced by an action to partition the land. If neither the petitioner nor any co-tenant requests a sale, the court will partition the land. Under the new law, if a sale is requested, the other co-tenants may purchase the selling interest at the fair market value of the property as determined by the court. If none of the co-tenants buy the interest, the court can order partition in kind, unless it results in great prejudice to the co-tenants, such as whether the property can practicably be divided among the cotenants.
The law does not apply to business relationships. It also does not affect property owned as joint tenants, which provides a right of survivorship for whoever survives an owner who dies.