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How is Forensic Genealogy Used in Mineral Rights Investments and Unclaimed Property

Green oil pumpjack in a field of cows in New Mexico

Most people understand that when they purchase property, they own that property, and that’s where the thought typically ends. It’s conceptually difficult (and often pointless) to wonder about what happens in the air above the property or below the surface of the Earth. No one expects airlines to pay them for an easement in order to fly overhead. Likewise, most people don’t consider the value of the minerals beneath their property, or whether they even fully own those minerals. In most countries, in fact, the government owns all the mineral resources by default.

In the United States, however, oil matters, as do other natural minerals. Parties can purchase the right to subsurface minerals, or lease the property to obtain the minerals, in all manner of business arrangements. When arrangements were made in years past, however, it can be easy to lose track of who owns what and which subsequent heirs should be paid out of what coffers. Unclaimed property laws can apply to mineral rights and mineral royalties just as they can to unclaimed real property and unclaimed cash. Read on for a discussion concerning unclaimed property, mineral rights, and forensic genealogy. Call an experienced forensic genealogist for professional, comprehensive assistance identifying the proper heirs to an estate.

What Are Mineral Rights

Mineral rights refer to the rights to mineral resources located on or within the ground in a given plot of land. Mineral rights include rights to the rocks, minerals, oil and gas that can be mined or extracted from the Earth. Although the particulars vary by state, in the United States, mineral rights originally belong to the person who owns the surface property.

However, over the years, many landowners have sold the rights to subsurface minerals on their property, either in exchange for a lump sum or in exchange for mineral royalties drawn from the profits of the minerals extracted. Property owners may be surprised to discover that they actually own only the surface land and not the subsurface mineral rights, while some other entity owns the right to extract oil and other minerals from under their house. Others are pleasantly surprised to discover that mineral royalties were transferred along with their inheritance of a piece of property.

How Does Unclaimed Property Law Interact With Mineral Rights

People who purchase or inherit property may not realize that they have mineral royalties associated with that property. In the case of unclaimed real estate, for example when an heir cannot be found, the mineral royalties associated with that real estate also wind up as unclaimed property. As with real property and other assets, when the owner to mineral royalties cannot be found, those funds may eventually escheat to the state. That means that there may be millions of dollars of mineral royalties, or other mineral rights payments, attached to property belonging to a missing heir. Those funds may just be sitting in the state’s coffers for years, waiting for the rightful heir to show up and file a claim.

The Role of the Forensic Genealogist in Unclaimed Property

Forensic genealogy can be utilized to find the proper owner of mineral rights, just as it can be used to find the proper heir to inherit the surface property. Forensic genealogists’ research can also be used to track down the proper recipient of mineral royalties already paid or to be paid to the property owner. An experienced and thorough forensic genealogical researcher can work through the labyrinth of deeds, leases, and other contracts associated with a plot of land to determine who owns which rights and who should have inherited certain mineral royalties.

If you’re an estate administrator in need of qualified assistance identifying and locating missing heirs to an estate and for determination of heirship proceedings, or heir research services in order to satisfy due diligence requirements, contact the talented and through forensic genealogists at Von Langen, LLC at 561-748-2936.