I could inherit land overseas. Is there an upside to this?
May 9, 2021 6:33 AM   Subscribe

I learned there are no heirs to a few unused land parcels still partially in my late great-grandfather's name in a coastal Croatian village. They're not seafront or exceedingly valuable, and he is one owner of many (even though the co-owners are likely deceased at this point). It's hard to conceive of a situation where I'd actually do something with it not least because my life is in the US. But nonetheless sentimentality is pushing me to consider transferring the title to my parents or even myself. Beyond indulging nostalgia, is there any rationale to pursue this? My hunch is there may actually be more downsides (legal fees, taxes, etc) than advantages. For context I also hold a Croatian passport.
posted by lecorbeau to Law & Government (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What do you know about the legal system there? You would want to investigate how land ownership passes on death under Croatian law. Consultation with a lawyer there is a good start.

If there were many co-owners at some point in the last few decades, chances are that there are numerous co-owners now, if nothing official has been done to narrow the number in the interim, and if the land has not reverted to the state for failure to pay land taxes. If one of your parents is one of the numerous co-owners, what would be the value of, say, 1/45 of the total land value?

In the U.S., you normally look at two sources of information - what the official land registry shows, and who is paying the property taxes.
posted by yclipse at 7:41 AM on May 9

Response by poster: Thanks for the insights. Perhaps I should have mentioned that I learned this was possible to begin with through real estate attorneys my family had been working with on a separate but related issue.
posted by lecorbeau at 8:24 AM on May 9

Could the transfer of the title to yourself eventually result in the sale of this land to benefit more people than just you?

To me, at least, "a coastal Croatian village" sounds like a lovely place to sell below market value or even donate some of this land to a local institution that is being pushed out of the village center by tourism or other development. Perhaps there's a way to get it into the hands of a library or a clinic or a school that villagers would usually find in the middle of town but now find at risk of being replaced by a parking lot for tour buses or a gift shop that sells fridge magnets or some other less-desirable entrant into the local social and economic geography.

Alternately, what about selling or donating it to a local organisation and then visiting sometime in the future to learn about their work? Do the local beekeepers want a new place for some hives? Could the primary school use some of the land to build an outdoor greenhouse and science lab? Maybe Local Village FC could use the land for a new football pitch. Maybe a little museum of rural village life pops up there. There are a lot of possibilities.

I guess what I'm saying is that if there is an emergent need and people have wanted this land for a socially-beneficial purpose for some time, and you can afford to perhaps not get top dollar for it, why not leave a legacy in this place that will last longer and affect more people than just a private house or farm or whatever's on that land now?
posted by mdonley at 9:15 AM on May 9 [3 favorites]

The upside, surely, is that you could own land in a coastal village in Croatia. Exquisite part of the world.
posted by einekleine at 9:38 AM on May 9 [3 favorites]

I cannot think of any actual upsides unless the share of the land you own is worth substantially more than the legal fees for sorting the mess out, and you can find a buyer for the land. The other use for the land is to build on it or rent it out if it is agricultural. None of which is straightforward to establish from a thousand plus miles away in a foreign language.

The "one owner of many" thing makes me think that there will be a lot of work for a lawyer in consolidating ownership and you may need to buy out other people's claims. But without understanding the basics of Croatian land tenure and inheritance rules, that's speculation on my part.
posted by plonkee at 9:48 AM on May 9 [2 favorites]

Coastal Croatia? In a village? I would at least figure out what these properties are nominally worth before making a decision.
posted by Nelson at 10:05 AM on May 9 [2 favorites]

My late lamented mother-in-law inherited a share of a house and olive grove in a village in Lebanon whence her father and all his brothers had escaped in the 1920s to seek fortunes in Brazil and West Africa. She adamantly refused to exercise her 'rights' to this property: a raffle of emotional, legal, historical baggage of which she wanted no part. Some of her offspring and niblings entertained romantic notions about drinking le vin du Liban at a free gaff in the patrimony. Eee she was quite cross as she disabused them of their pretentions. Walk away.
posted by BobTheScientist at 10:51 AM on May 9

FWIW I own a property in a coastal Croatian village. It's a parking lot in an agricultural zone and it's basically worthless. Well, except to me, because that's where I park when I come to visit my mom. My mom is trying to buy out the many owners of a plot of land in the middle of her back yard. All the locals promptly sold her their share, because they're aware it's not worth anything to them. The one remaining owner is in Canada, saw "land in coastal Croatian village" on the title and is demanding an exorbitant amount of money to sell his share of what in practice is a patch of lettuce in the middle of someone's suburbian back yard. That part of land is far away from the sea, is on the outskirts of the village and is part of the designated agricultural zone that goes on into the forest protected by the EU "Natura 2000" scheme - in other words, it probably won't ever be anything but a patch of dirt in the middle of a garden.

So, you really have to ask yourself what you're hoping to gain out of this.
Money? Cool, but try to remain rooted in reality here.
Some practical tie to your "homeland"? Cool, sure, it might mean something to you, but also, check out the taxes.
Place that maybe you could move to? That's a possibility, but I think it would be easier to just buy a nice plot of land somewhere that doesn't need any additional legal work done.

Other practical considerations:
- Land ownership in Croatia meant I could cross the Croatian border easier than non-owners at some points during the coronavirus lockdown. I don't know if you're planning on traveling to Croatia regularly...
- You can check out the property using Google Maps and Google Street View to see its current state.
- If someone else has been using the property thinking it's "no one's", they become the defacto owner after X years. (There's a fancy legal word for this that I don't remember.)
- If you consolidate ownership of the land, it will be easier to sell than if you're just selling your share.
- Even if you don't formally transfer the title, it may be that you become the defacto owner, as your great-grandfathers heir.
posted by gakiko at 10:59 AM on May 9 [9 favorites]

If you want to check the current legal status on the land, find it's "katastarska općina" (region) and "broj čestice" (plot number) here and then check ownership using those numbers here.
posted by gakiko at 11:02 AM on May 9 [3 favorites]

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