Louisiana Appleseed recruits professionals to donate pro bono time to solve problems at their root cause. Their goal is to advance social justice by creating change at a systemic level. Louisiana Appleseed’s projects seek to increase access to education, opportunity and justice.
“Hey did you want to talk for a second?” asks Christy Kane from behind a table at Dillard University’s Housing Fair.
“We’re here to talk about clear title today, and why it’s important if you own a home to have the paperwork in your name,” Kane explains to Kim Ford, who’s standing on the other side of the table. Kane asks Ms. Ford if she owns a home or is planning to at some point. And she does, but…
“My husband purchased the property in his name alone because he had a better credit score,” explains Ford. “So we wanted to become homeowners, and that was the only way we could do it if we left my name off. But guess what? He has a child from a previous relationship.”
Even though Ford’s name is not on the title, she paid for half of the house, and she wants her daughter, the daughter she and her husband have together, to inherit the house.
“My daughter – everything that I own, I want it to go completely to her,” explains Ford. “What do you think about that? Are you an attorney?”
“I am an attorney,” answers Kane, “but I run a non-profit now, so I’m not practicing.”
That non-profit is Louisiana Appleseed, and this is exactly what they do: help people understand how having a clear title to property makes it so much easier for a family to pass on wealth to future generations. Say, for example a granddaughter lives in her grandmother’s house.
“But grandma never did have a will. And it’s okay with everybody until unfortunately a disaster hits like Katrina. And then the granddaughter goes to get money from the government, and the government says you’re not the real owner of the home. You can prove you’re the granddaughter, but the legal paperwork isn’t in your name.”
Kane says the system had gotten too complex and costly, so people stopped using it.
“So what we did as Appleseed is we heard about that problem over and over for people who were trying to come back and rebuild from the storm, after Katrina and Rita. So we recruited lawyers to look at what were the barriers within the legal system? What were the problems?”
These pro bono lawyers looked at the law of small successions and developed a plan to make it easier and cheaper for people to clear title on properties. Then Louisiana Appleseed went to the Legislature and convinced them to change the law.
Now Appleseed works to get people like Kim Ford to take advantage of the law, to establish clear title and make it legally plain who they want to inherit their property.
“I guess the first question I have is: do you have a will, or does your husband have a will that spells out what you want to happen to that property?” Kane asks Ford.
“We need to do a will?” Ford laughs. “So if we did a will that would spell it out?”
“Yes, if you did a will that would spell it out,” affirms Kane.
Without a will, Kane tells Ford, it will be much more complicated for her daughter to inherit her house.
Buying a home is expensive. For many families, it takes a lot of sacrifice.
People generally want that hard work to benefit future generations, to help build wealth in their families. Louisiana Appleseed looks closely at what’s getting in the way of doing that, and then they work to change it.
Kane says people have so much to deal with every single day. But this one thing – clear title on property – getting it straight, makes a big difference.