As deer season is upon us I thought it would be a good time to review title to your land. It’s pretty common for several buddies or family members to buy some land together and then share ownership and use to make hunting more affordable. It’s a lot more fun to hunt when you can enjoy with others anyway. Of course over time people move, die or simply quit hunting. The legal issues with hunting land are often the most expensive to correct since no one really pays attention to this type of asset.
You can jointly own land by several methods. In your own name, you can own as joint tenants or tenants in common. If the deed is not clear, you own as tenants in common; that means that if your partner dies, you need to go through probate to convey out that interest. With joint tenancy, on the other hand, you simply file an affidavit upon the death of a joint tenant to take him or her off of the title. However, even though this is simpler than probate, it does mean that the deceased partner will not receive any interest in the land which is often not the intent of the partners.
The form of ownership doesn’t address what happens if you want to sell before an owner has died but you can’t agree on terms – often times, one partner has paid for more expense connected to the property but those facts are disputed by other owners. Or, one partner wants to retain ownership and buy out the other. Again, if you can’t agree on value everyone is stuck. The solutions here are pick your partners carefully and/or have a written agreement when you first purchase the property to think through these issues before things get ugly.
Many people now own hunting land within an LLC. This helps avoid probate as the LLC is the sole owner and the entity won’t die even if its members do. This method only works, however, if all owners and their spouses deed the property into the LLC. This is a big improvement over owning land individually but you still should have an LLC agreement that talks about rights and succession issues. Can I will my ownership to anyone? What if you have only one child and your partner has six – your land and shack can only support so many hunters. If I want out, how do I make the others pay me my fair share? What is the right way to value a partial interest in an LLC? What if one of your partners thinks it is ok to invite all his buddies to party opening weekend? What if you want to put up a hunting shack – how do you share expenses and finance improvements?
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