Dormant Minerals – Searching for Heirs

A previous article discusses more generally the notice requirements in Ohio’s Dormant Minerals Act

Who must be notified?

Before declaring a mineral interest as abandoned, a surface owner must first provide adequate notice to the “mineral holder.”  Many times, the mineral holder is deceased and has been for many years.   If that’s true, the surface owner must notify the holder’s heirs.

Who are a holder’s heirs?

It depends on the structure of the holder’s family.  It could be a surviving spouse, the holder’s children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, or even aunts and uncles depending largely on how long ago the mineral holder died.

How do I locate a mineral holder’s heirs?

Unless you personally know the mineral holder (or their family), chances are you don’t know the mineral holder’s family tree.  Online tools such as Ancestry.com can help.  And publicly available court records might help, as well.  Consider looking through deed records as well as probate records to see who inherited the mineral holder’s assets.

What if I can’t find a mineral holder’s heirs?

Sometimes, public record searches lead to dead-ends, even to the most skilled abstractor.  If no heirs can be identified, or if there whereabouts are unknown such that “service of notice [via certified mail] cannot be completed,” the Dormant Minerals Act authorizes notice by publication.

Can I skip the heir search and simply publish notice?

Probably not. The statute defines “holder” broadly to likely include heirs of the original party who created  the mineral interest  The statute also requires an effort to serve holders via certified mail.  However, the act does not describe how big or exhaustive of an effort must be made before publishing becomes appropriate.

How hard do I have to search for heirs before publishing becomes OK?

The Dormant Minerals Act does not answer this question.   However, Ohio courts have begun to shed some light on this question.  A recent case from the Jefferson County Court of Common Pleas (Sharp v. Miller, 15-CV-108) found that a diligent but fruitless search through publicly available records in that county was sufficient to allow serving notice by publication.  That court pointed out that the statute, in regard to other issues, focused upon the county where the minerals were located.  The newspaper notice is to be published only in such county.  Moreover, any party wishing to preserve their mineral interests must record a claim in the county where the minerals are located. Accordingly, the court established a rule that, unless a landowner has actual knowledge of a holder’s name and location, it is sufficient to limit a search for holders to public records in the county where the minerals are located.

Thanks for reading.

-Eric