Business

Generational Property

Understanding and untangling land claims in the Islands.

By Sara J. Kaufman, Manager, Forbes, Forbes & Forbes Ltd.

It is not that long ago when the British government gave away massive tracts of land in their colonies of the Bahamas and the Turks & Caicos Islands to Loyalists fleeing the US, to UK citizens of power and even to loyal Brits stuck in Canada when it claimed a constitution in 1767. Spanning the late 1700s and early 1800s, waves of Colonial immigration swept over the Islands, and plantations sprouted in the most unlikely places. Slavery was not yet illegal so hundreds of slaves moved with their owners to the Islands, planting cotton and food crops in the thin, rocky, alkaline soil.
Within a comparatively short time, however, the reality of these coral based Islands with minimal fresh water resources, coupled with the UK Abolition of Slavery Act in 1833, provoked an equal wave of emigration as owners abandoned/sold their lands and returned to the UK. Those few who stayed and the former slaves of those who left worked the land as best they could, developed small villages and their families slowly populated the Islands. “Generational Property” refers to land which is owned by these many descendants of the original landowner.

“Generational Property” at the simplest refers to land which is owned by the many descendants of the deceased original landowner — all the generations of entitled heirs since that original owner passed away. Intriguing and complicated, generational property is land which has often never been surveyed, nor had clear title registered, and includes land given or taken over many years, where generations may have squatted and built homes. The generational properties were sometimes described in wills, letters, or handwritten notes; the properties may have distinctive landmarks and descriptions set out or implied by the actual building/wall ruins left; and the properties are often registered to several owners in common, or to heirs of the original owners, or to the estates of original owners.
It was not until the late 1960s and early 1970s that the British began to work on clarifying land claims, surveying the Islands and situating the family estates, examining documents and setting up government Land Registry offices. It was the hey day of “land adjudicators” who tramped all over all these Islands, trying to find a way to sort out the land claims, land surveys, land issues and land titles — and sadly, not always with clear integrity. The properties were described in wills, letters, or handwritten notes, with landmarks and descriptions set out or implied by the actual building/wall ruins and corners described by physical boundaries. From all of this, the land adjudicators set down who owned what — and disputes continue to this day!

Rock wall in Lorimers, Middle Caicos represents typical generational property boundary marker.

Rock wall in Lorimers, Middle Caicos represents typical generational property boundary marker.


A series of maps was developed called Block Plans, defining sections of each island, and parcels were roughly drawn in to the “block” when title seemed clear. The Land Registry recorded successful claims on standard government land titles for each parcel. To this day, the Block Plans are continually updated to record all land transferred or sold and any division of lands, and the Land Registry physically writes in the change of ownership on the Land Title kept in their office. Land Certificates add another layer of confusion, as these can be issued to the owner of a parcel of land, but when issued it is noted on the Land Title — and the Land Certificates must be returned before any changes can be made on a Land Title. If lost, a whole process must be followed to ensure no fakes come forward later!
In Turks & Caicos Islands, it was over a period of seven years that the “land amnesty” took place. All those with documents of any kind, or claims to present for generational property were allowed to submit their materials during a five year period, and to dispute or protest land adjudicators’ decisions for some years after. The UK, and later, Turks & Caicos Government Land Registry office took up the work done by the land adjudicators, processing the documents collected and surveys completed to record valid claims on land titles under the name of the original owner(s). In addition, the Supreme Court established a process for an heir(s) to be granted powers of “Administration” on generational property once a suitable chain of identification and appropriate co-operation among heirs can be demonstrated or enforced. While neither a simple or quick process, the steps for moving generational land title forward were clearly laid out. Additionally, the wills of any owners specifying executors, and probate granted through the courts, offer an alternative route for dealing with the generational properties through the legal executor of an estate. The result is that in TCI, it is possible for generational property land to be sold or divided among heirs — both equitably and inequitably, depending on the integrity of the “Administrators” in ensuring all eligible heirs receive fair share.
All legal heirs should have the ability to participate in the process across several generations and it is here that the complexities quickly multiply. Each generation must be legally tied to the preceding one with documentation, and each generation must have an executor under a valid will, or a court-appointed administrator in order to process any land registrations. So dead great-grandfathers’ legal representatives “administer” on the land, and pass it to the next generation. In earlier times, inheritance was the right of only the sons, and only the legitimate sons, but there is no limit to the number of direct generations with rights of inheritance. Currently, all children of parents whose death occurred after 1979 are considered rightful heirs under the law in TCI, whether legitimate or not, adding even more people to the process.
Since the early 1970s, at least half of the generational property in TCI has had some due process: selling, subdividing, moving title forward as estate administrators updated land documents. However, the economic benefit has had a very limited impact due to low land prices received, carpet baggers tricking illiterate locals and unscrupulous family members profiteering at the expense of others. In TCI, the bulk of the land grants where grants awarded by the Crown in the late 1700s and early 1800s were for the islands of North and Middle Caicos, totaling 12,000 acres and 6,500 acres respectively, or roughly 40% of the most arable land on North Caicos and nearly 25% of Middle Caicos’ better land. (cf: C. Kozy, doctoral thesis). On these islands, development and land sales have been considerably slower than on islands where government had more Crown acreage to sell/develop. With hindsight, this may now offer both these islands a better way forward with more thorough planning and understanding of the positive and negative aspects to development.
Once living heirs are reached in the registration process, their names can be registered on the land titles — in proportion to their share of the property — and it is then possible to divide the land. Earlier, heirs were allowed to partition their share of the land by survey, but this often left those quickest with a disproportionate share of the good land, and the slowpokes with the swamp. Now, all heirs on title must agree for any division or sale of generational property to move forward. It is very true that the longer any family waits to deal with their generational land issues, the more complicated it will become, as more heirs will be eligible to participate in the process. It is important to note that much of the process is not costly and does not require any legal expertise, but is much more a question of research and communication.
At this point in time, generational property in the TCI is a major resource for the local population, but little land is being brought forward to the realty market. Squabbles within families, difficulty in valuations for backland, the huge size of many parcels and the recognition that this is not a great time to sell land are all influences that must be addressed. Perhaps it is best that this process move forward slowly, but move forward it must. Let us all hope that the process brings solid benefit both to the sellers and to those who develop the tracts of generational land throughout TCI.

Sara Kaufman has made her home in Middle Caicos for over ten years, developed a small resort and become a Naturalized Citizen. Her knowledge of Middle and North Caicos is unsurpassed, and her contact network for all the sister islands is extensive and active. Her background includes a M.SC. in Business Studies, bringing a full range of skills to the logistics of island development projects. In addition to operating and owning Forbes, Forbes & Forbes Ltd., she and her partner Daniel O. Forbes have several other businesses in TCI, including the Middle Caicos Co-op (artisan handcraft network); Middle Caicos Co-op Services (administration and management services, training and operations); Dragon Cay Enterprises Ltd. (resort at Mudjin Harbour) and Daniel’s Café (restaurant/bar).

Avid amateur photographer Siri White first came to Middle Caicos as a visitor in 1999 and was enchanted with the culture, people and natural tranquility. She now travels throughout Middle Caicos with her standard Hasselblad camera, capturing the island on film and processing the film and hand-printing each photo in her small home darkroom.

You can purchase “Middle Caicos Exposed,” a 2011 calendar presenting a photographic series of the folk of Middle Caicos at the Unicorn Bookstore on Providenciales and in other locations across the Islands. For more information on Siri White’s photography and her FABLE DYR sculptures, visit www.siriwhite.com.



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Sonia Grant
Jul 1, 2012 3:47

Are wall such as these protected? We have similar walls in Wheeland, Providenciales? If not, how can we preserve same?

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