How an inherited property's environmental issues can hinder heirs

If you have lived a relatively simple life, putting your affairs in order can be pretty straightforward. You probably want to leave a little something to charity, and you hope your children can get a nice price for your house and land. However, that hope may have been significantly diminished when you discovered that your property has environmental issues.

If you have been putting off planning your estate because you suspect a toxic substance pollutes your property, you may be leaving a time bomb for your heirs.

Contamination cleanup falls to the owner

Potential contaminants may come from many sources. For example, if your property formerly supported any of the following industries, you may have a contamination problem:

  • Gas stations or auto repair shops
  • Biohazards from medical businesses
  • Old oil wells or mines
  • Junk yards
  • Dry cleaner
  • Many other industries that use chemicals or toxins

If your heirs purchase a piece of land and then discover it harbors contaminants, federal and state laws offer some protections. However, people who inherit polluted land may not receive the same protections. In the eyes of the government, your heirs would likely be financially responsible for the cleanup and any residual effects. For example, you or your heirs may also face legal actions from neighbors if the pollutants have crossed over the property line. Neighbors may try to hold you liable for any of the following:

  • Cleanup of their land
  • Diminished property value
  • Health issues related to the contamination
  • Ongoing medical oversight
  • Additional damages

You may try to sue the previous owner for cleanup costs, but if you've lived on the property for decades, the previous owner may be difficult to locate. Cleaning it up yourself may create even more of an environmental and legal mess for you.

Protection for you and your heirs

While you may have some protections if you purchased the property with existing contamination, your heirs may not be so lucky. They could try to sell it, but chances are good they will end up losing money on the sale or sinking a fortune into cleaning up the land to make it marketable.

If you discovered contamination on your property and want professional advice on the best options for dealing with the property in your estate plan, a dedicated attorney can provide you with answers and guidance. Having knowledge of Texas and federal laws regarding polluted land will be an advantage as you seek a positive resolution for your situation.

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