WTVM Investigates: 84-year-old Auburn woman forced to sell home of over 60 years

Published: Nov. 15, 2023 at 12:00 AM EST|Updated: Nov. 15, 2023 at 10:24 PM EST
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AUBURN, Ala. (WTVM) - PART 1: An Auburn woman will soon be forced to pack her things and leave her home, but here’s the catch, she owns the house and the property where she lives.

The American dream is a paid-for house, right? Free and clear of mortgage, offering up with it some financial security. Corine Woodson has that, or so she thought.

The Woodson family purchased property, 40 acres, outside of Auburn in the early 1900′s. Back then, that was outside of the city limits. Now, that heir property has been passed down through generations and has also become prime real estate in Auburn’s booming Moore’s Mill area.

The has been eyed by investors for decades and soon a forced sale will happen. Based on what property in the area is selling for currently the land could be worth $20 million.

Corine Woodson has lived in her home on Hamilton Road in Auburn for more than 60 years. But soon, at 83, she’ll be forced to move out.

“I would like to ask them why. You know, why, but I don’t. I can’t figure it out. Thinking about it, wondering about it. It’s not easy. I can tell you that.”

The property where the house sits is part of a 40-acre piece of family land that belonged to her late husband’s father. When he died, it was left to his children or their designated heirs.

Dozens of people have a stake in the property, and some want to sell the owners. They are called “tenants in common,” meaning no one has a specific piece of property – just a percentage. When one owner wants to sell or files a partition in court, everyone has to sell.

“Heir property is one of those things, I know she was living at the home, but it was owned by the land and the land is sold… she would possibly have to move. It would’ve been a much different situation if her and the other family members that owned it were all equally sharing the ownership. Then they could have made a joint decision on what it is they’re going to do. Obviously, if you have ownership in it you have the right to partition to sell your interest in it. The family could buy your part out to keep a third party from coming in and assuming your interest. Because she was living in a house that was owned by the property, then got given to another family member, she’s at the whim of whatever ultimately happens with that sale.”

Through the years, Cleveland Brothers Incorporated has bought different family members’ interests in the property and now owns 49% of the 40 acres.

Soon, they’ll have the chance to buy it all. The property is currently under court-ordered appraisal, and when it’s done, the Cleveland Brothers can purchase it. When a partition begins, the court provides a deadline for any owner who wishes to buy the property outright to come forward.

The Cleveland Brother did that. Corine did not because as far as she is concerned, she already owns the property, but she’s filed a motion for the opportunity to purchase, and the court says it’s too late.

“I have even said ‘Nobody can just put you off of your property,’ and my family members have said ‘No they’re not gonna do that’. We were, I guess, naïve or not up to par on the law based on that timeframe, but it’s happening right before our eyes. The sad thing is there is very little we can do about it.”

So when the dust settles, Corine will have to find a new home.

Bill Cleveland of Cleveland Brothers Incorporated says he will let her stay on the property in her Hamilton Road home for a year after the sale is completed.

We don’t know what that appraisal will say when it comes in, but a good example of property prices in the area – there are multiple two-acre lots within three miles of her property for half a million dollars. By that math, the Woodson property could be worth upwards of $20 million.

PART 2: When it comes to family properties that will be handed down, heirs’ property, one expert says, is a way to make sure it is handled the way you want it to be handled. If it’s not done the right way, your family will face some difficult scenarios down the road.

Corine Woodson is a 83-year-old widow, whose husband died just last year. She has lived in her home for more than 60 years, on the property her late husband inherited and because of the way the property is deeded, she’ll soon have to leave her home.

Investors, Cleveland Brother Incorporated, have purchased 49% of the property from family members. The company is forcing a sale of the entire property through litigation, and it’s all perfectly legal.

The property is 40 acres and just down the street, there are two acre lots selling for $500 thousand each. That means the Woodson parcel could be worth $20 million. Mrs. Woodson won’t leave empty handed, but she doesn’t want to leave.

“It was determined already that the land cannot be equally divided. That is how he has the opportunity to buy all of it, and since they’re saying that my dad didn’t say that he wanted to buy all of it, they’re not allowing my mom the opportunity to do so.”

Montgomery County, Alabama Probate Judge J.C. Love III is an expert in this field.

“It’s gone from initial brothers and sisters down to nieces and nephews, then down to cousins. People that may not have as deep of a connection to it. Maybe they don’t live in Alabama. They moved on. They need cash so it’s easy for them to try to liquidate their particular interests in it. They find a buyer. Alabama law was amended in 2014 to at least make sure you get fair market value. The others had the first right or refusal to try to buy out that other family member’s option.”

He works to teach families about what happens to their property if the right actions aren’t taken ahead of time.

“To some level, we’re all going to find ourselves dealing with heir property. Whether it be inherited from a parent or parents who passed on or have their parents share from their parents who passed on. It’s really about the advanced planning, estate planning and really having a plan about what it is you want to happen and how you want to manage that property.”

Judge Love says he is familiar with the case Mrs. Woodson faces and it happens all too often when a last will and testament isn’t left behind by the original property owner.

“It’s been a long fight about them trying to regain ownership of the property. The land, now based on its proximity to new development, is now worth millions.”

The original property owner could have landed and then passed it down. That could prevent situations like this from happening in the future since it didn’t happen. The land can’t be equitably distributed, which will likely have a new home address.