June 01, 2014

Unique Real Property Rights of Seniors in the Western United States

Michael J. Van Zandt

In the western United States, there are many different forms of real property rights. They can be fee simple title rights, homestead rights, land-surface-only rights, mineral rights, timber harvesting rights, surface water rights, groundwater rights, grazing rights, and rights of way for ditches and for access. Most of these unique property rights were granted or confirmed to the settlers of the West by the U.S. Congress in the second half of the 1800s. And the reason Congress granted or confirmed these rights was to encourage the settlement and expansion of the western unappropriated public lands in order to place these lands into production and create new economic growth. Since many of these property rights were established after 1862 and we have several generations of new owners who have inherited or purchased these unique property rights, advising clients about these rights can be challenging. This article addresses the issue of how to advise senior citizens about unique property rights that are not encountered every day by the general real property practitioner.

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