In fulfilling its mission, Freeport Conservation Trust works with landowners to preserve in perpetuity the special natural qualities of their land. FCT always recommends that landowners seek independent legal and financial advice when looking to protect their land. Some common elements of land conservation projects are presented below.
This traditional tool for conserving private land, a “conservation easement” is a legal agreement between a landowner and a government agency or a land trust such as FCT that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values. An easement allows landowners to continue to own and use their land; they can also sell it or pass it on to their heirs.
When you convey a conservation easement, you give up some of the rights associated with the land. For example, you might give up the right to build additional structures, while retaining the right to grow crops. Future owners will be bound by the easement’s terms too. The land trust is responsible for working with the landowner to make sure the easement’s terms are followed.
Conservation easements offer a lot of flexibility. An easement on property containing rare wildlife habitat might prohibit any development, for example, while an easement on a farm might allow farming and the addition of agricultural structures. An easement may apply to all or just a portion of the property. And it does not necessarily require public access.
Qualifying for a Tax Deduction
A landowner sometimes sells a conservation easement, but often easements are donated to FCT. If the donation benefits the public by permanently protecting important conservation resources, and it meets other federal tax code requirements, it can qualify as a tax-deductible charitable donation. Easement values vary greatly; in general, the highest easement values result from very restrictive conservation easements on tracts of open space under intense development pressure. Sometimes placing a conservation easement on your property can result in property tax savings as well.
Reducing Estate Taxes
Putting land under easement can be a vital tool to pass undeveloped land on to the next generation. By removing the land’s development potential, the easement typically lowers the property’s market value, which in turn lowers potential estate taxes. Whether you donate the easement is during your life or by will, it can make a big difference in your heirs’ ability to keep your family’s land intact.
Conserving and Reselling Land
If you need to sell your land but you want it to remain mostly or altogether undeveloped, a land trust can help. FCT can work with you to place a conservation easement on the land before it goes on the market. Some conservation organizations also help identify potential buyers for conserved lands.
Donation of Land for Conservation
Donating land for conservation is one of the finest legacies a person can leave to future generations. If you choose to donate your land, we can work with you to identify the best arrangement. FCT might retain ownership of the property as a permanent preserve or transfer the property to a suitable owner, such as a government agency. In some cases, the land is sold to a private owner, subject to a conservation easement held by FCT. (Proceeds from such a sale could fund the Trust’s long-term management of the conservation easement and/or help it to protect even more land.) The full market value of land donated to a nonprofit land trust is tax deductible as a charitable gift.
In a bargain sale, you sell your land to a land trust for less than its fair market value. This not only makes it more affordable for the land trust, but offers several benefits to you: it provides cash, avoids some capital gains tax, and entitles you to a charitable income tax deduction based on the difference between the land’s fair market value and its sale price.
Fair Market Value Sale
Sometimes a land trust pays fair market value to purchase a gem of a conservation property.
A life estate can be used to accomplish land conservation when a landowner wants to continue to live on their property but sees advantages to transferring it to a land trust before their death.
And these are just some of the more common land conservation tools…
Looking to optimize funding sources and the range of techniques available, the Freeport Conservation Trust often partners with other organizations and government agencies to help private landowners conserve their land. In addition to the tools discussed above, we have worked with landowners to secure permanent trail easements and temporary trail agreements that have allowed our trail network to grow.
This page was adapted from information published by the Land Trust Alliance.
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