Transfer of mineral rights

I’m new here and I’ll try to cut to the chase but with appropriate detail.

A great aunt died in 1953 and left a will which had a codicil assigning some mineral rights to several people. (My twin brother and I are the only ones of the 1953 bunch who are still alive as far as we can tell. We’re 72.)

Currently, my brother and sister own almost all the surface land and during several transfers of different parcels, including the 1954 probate upon our aunt’s death, NO mineral rights were ever deeded separately from surface rights to anyone.

Now, the entire parcel (210 acres) has been contracted (2 ½ years ago!) to be sold and there’re complications. The realtor who listed the property added on the For Sale advertisement (without consultation or permission) that mineral rights were included. In clearing the purchase, the buyer questioned the ownership of the mineral rights, the distribution of which was mentioned in the will. So, by now a year and a half has been spent trying to sort out the issue.

The distribution of mineral rights pertained to 12 people, one of whom was already deceased but his share was awarded to “his deceased children” and, so far, we don’t know who they are. Nor do we know all the progeny of several of the deceased beneficiaries. Now the contract with the gravel company who was extracting gravel from the property had been “closed”, 1953 or ’54 - There is a document releasing the contract. - prior to our aunt’s death and she had collected all the proceeds before her death.

And, finally, the will was probated during the year after our aunt’s death, 1954, with no apparent complications. BUT, there is no mention in the probate documents of any distribution of mineral rights. They’re only mentioned in the original 1950 will and the 1952 codicil.

Just wondering if any of you have suggestions as to how to proceed to clear this matter up. (A lawyer has been retained, but, frankly, his idea that we need to find ALL the descendants and have them release their interests seems an unnecessary bother and expense. Shouldn’t all that have been handled at probate over 60 years ago?

The land is in South Carolina and extraction of gravel (mineral) ceased in 1952 or ’53 with no further excavation and no other mineral deals since.

If clarification is needed, please email me back.

Thanks, in advance.

This is an example of a lesson to be learned by everyone with real property interests. From your description, it may be that the executor and attorney decided in the 1950's that it was too expensive to find the mineral owners and properly distribute the estate. Many families are in similar circumstances when family decided not to file ancillary probate in other states based on the low value of mineral rights at the time of death. No one considers the ultimate legal and financial ramifications to the heirs 60 years later. Of course, since some heir(s) died before your aunt, she could share some blame because she failed to update her will. Regardless, you are now paying the price. Your attorney seems to be giving you good advice for the steps necessary to clear the title for sale of the surface and minerals. There are landmen and related websites which trace family and descendants. And it will cost the sellers money. A lot depends on state law and the circumstances. To fail to find the heirs and ask for releases means that the sellers are trying to take all the property (mineral) rights from them and take the value for themselves. It is the responsibility of all heirs and family to keep records, follow and question wills and probate and ask for timely information. You may feel that this is not fair and a burden, especially considering how young you were at the time of your aunt's death. But the adults in the family should have done this work and their irresponsibility is now your problem. It is understandable that the buyer wants clean title to the property. They cannot lease the minerals without clear title.