In NC you can file an action for Adverse Possession after 20 years of open, notorious, exclusive, hostile, and continuous use of the land. This is not automatic and requires a lawsuit to be filed. You need to consult with a local attorney familiar with real estate litigation to determine if your use of the land would qualify for a successful adverse possession claim.
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As the other attorney stated, you may possibly have a claim for adverse possession, but as it involves the death of a family member there may also be an estate issue tied in. You should find a lawyer that deals in real estate and estates for at least a consultation as so he or she can explain the process.
I agree with the prior answers. You likely will not be secure in fee simple ownership until you quiet title to the property in question. Your next step is to schedule a consultation with a local real property attorney, to discuss the potential legal issues my North Carolina colleagues have mentioned. Thank you for your question.
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