Good news, bad news: Your inherited property is … contaminated

Land is certainly in no short supply in the United States. It’s a big country, and many millions of individuals and families own deeds to real property.

In California and elsewhere, a chunk of realty can be an envisioned central consideration in an estate plan, with a devise intended to benefit heirs.

And, undoubtedly, recipients of such a prize will almost always be elated when an opened will identifies them as the lucky inheritors of land.

Unless it turns out to be contaminated.

Just think about that. Although a given property with environmental issues might not turn out to be such a big deal, it could also lead to state and/or federal demands to remediate known issues at an exorbitant cost.

Might that latter scenario not influence a would-be inheritor’s decision to disclaim a devise under a will?

As noted in a recent article discussing contaminated properties and inheritance, the issue of environmentally problematic land is certainly something to think about in the context of estate planning, both for those seeking to provide an inheritance and for individuals named as devisees, respectively.

One commentator on that subject matter calls it a problem of “toxic succession.”

How it is ultimately dealt with will depend on the material facts that emerge in a given case, of course. Perhaps clean-up costs can be reasonably contained. In other instances, it might become clear that satisfying environmental authorities will require a bank-breaking payout.

The bottom line with estate planning and land that arguably has any history of contamination (the above-cited article points to properties that were once things like junk yards, gas stations, mines or automobile shops) is for any owner/planner to timely do some digging — sometimes literally — to get the facts.

With contamination, knowing sooner is far better than confronting an unpleasant reality down the road.

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