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Eminent Domain & Heritage Value

Most citizens are aware that the government is empowered to take land or property under certain circumstances. The court actions that arise in these situations are referred to as eminent domain. Both the United States Constitution and the Constitution of the State of Missouri require that the property owner receive “just compensation” when the government decides to use eminent domain to take their property. Most commonly, these situations arise in building new roads or seeking easements for new utility lines.

But for many Missourians, a fair market value wouldn’t do justice to the investment they have in their family farm. For some of those farmers, their families’ land has been passed down through multiple generations, and that bond between the family and the farm cannot be adequately reflected in an appraised value. That’s one of the reasons the Missouri Legislature created a special “heritage value” consideration in determining “just compensation.”

When the state government begins the process of taking property that has been owned by the same family for fifty years or longer, that family is entitled to a payment including the “heritage value” under RSMO § 523.039(3). This statute provides that the amount of just compensation is determined by taking the fair market value and increasing it by an additional fifty percent. So, a landowner is entitled to a final payment that equals 150% of the fair market value of the property.

In a case that goes to trial, the jury must first decide the fair value of the property by considering evidence from many sources, often including experts testifying about the appraised value. It is then left to the judge to increase the amount determined by the jury so that the landowner receives the just compensation which she is entitled to.

As with many court actions, the process can be complicated and seem daunting to those without advanced legal training. When anyone is involved in the process of an eminent domain action, it is usually best to seek the advice of an attorney who can help make sure that the landowner receives the full amount she deserves.

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