Durham startup HeirShares is reshaping the way families coordinate and manage shared heirs’ property through its web-based and native app portal.
‘Heirs’ property’ is considered land jointly owned by descendants of a deceased person whose estate has never been handled in probate court, meaning there is no valid deed or will.
At its core, the HeirShares tree builder app facilitates the title-clearing process for real estate owned as heirs’ property. Family members and/or legal representatives can complete a family tree starting with the original owner of the property. The tree is then coupled with important documents—such as wills, deeds, birth and death certificates, and state laws—and using its algorithm to figure out each heir’s ownership share. The platform has over 200 early-access sign-ups.
The company recently received a $10K MICRO grant from NC IDEA, which has been used toward customer discovery.
“We’re building tech driven solutions that support families who maintain real estate as an inter-generational asset,” said Co-Founder and CEO Mavis Gragg.
She said real estate as an inter-generational asset can mean affordable housing, financial growth, and contributing to a community’s resilience.
“Whether you look at it from an economic or conservation perspective, family-owned real estate is an important inter-generational asset,” she said.
Being a seasoned attorney with 14 years of experience in real estate and estate planning, Mavis has seen first-hand the challenges face by owners of heirs’ property. The heirs have a right to use the land, but without proper documentation, there is no clear title, often making it impossible to sell, mortgage, or repair the property. This leads to many challenges, including sometimes the loss of the land.
Co-ownership laws also are generally not specialized for family ownership, so many get frustrated with the issues that arise due to how the laws are structured, she said.
“I felt unsatisfied with how I was able to support my clients because they would exhaust their resources on legal fees,” said Gragg, “rather than a comprehensive strategy that helps them maintain it and leverage the asset.”
This led her to form HeirShares in April 2020, alongside her sister Monica Gragg and family friend Otis Jennings.
Along with the family tree builder and additional tools, the portal also offers resources to assist legal professionals and a subscription-based online learning platform called deathanddirt.com with multimedia, self-guided courses covering heirs’ property and generational family real estate.
Co-founder Monica Gragg, who has experience working in online learning and UX/UI, said the platform was designed by a legal expert for a lay audience.
“It’s very interactive, very visual, there’s a lot of humor,” she said. “We’re really intentional about the design and the engagement, so that we can drive change.”
Mavis said that even after decades of families losing land because of how the laws work, there still hasn’t been systemic change in real estate co-ownership laws. That means that organizations, like HeirShares, have had to get creative.
“I would say that we are the only organization out there that is driving change through technology with respect to this particular issue,” she said. “I believe what we’re doing is disruptive.”
By the end of this year, the team hopes to launch the MVP of the tree builder and various other products in the pipeline. Mavis is transitioning to working full-time for HeirShares.