- Leaves land in private ownership.
- Can result in an income tax deduction, estate tax reduction, and possibly reduced property taxes.
A conservation easement (or land protection agreement) is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or conservation agency that permanently limits the uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values. It allows you to continue to own and use your land and to sell it or pass it on to heirs.
When you donate a conservation easement to a land trust, you permanently give up some of the rights associated with the land. For example, you might give up the right to build additional residences, while retaining the right to grow crops. Future owners also will be bound by the easement’s terms, and the land trust is responsible for making sure the easement’s terms are followed.
Conservation easements are flexible land protection tools. A land protection agreement on property containing rare wildlife habitat might prohibit any development, for example, while one on a farm might allow continued farming and the building of additional agricultural structures. A land protection agreement can allow appropriate development and even permit some commercial use of the land. It may apply to just a portion of the property, and need not require public access. In short, an easement must protect the land’s conservation values, but it also can be fashioned to meet the financial and personal needs of the landowner.
A conservation easement donation that meets federal tax code requirements – in essence, that provides public benefit by permanently protecting important conservation resources – can qualify as a tax-deductible charitable donation. For income tax purposes, the value of the donation is the difference between the land’s value with the easement and its value without the easement. Additionally, conservation easement donations can provide important estate tax benefits, even if the conservation easement is donated after the family property is in an estate.
Placing an easement on your property also may result in property tax savings.
Perhaps most important, a conservation easement can be essential for passing land on to the next generation. By removing the land’s development potential, the easement lowers its market value, which in turn lowers estate tax. Whether the easement is donated during life or by will, it can make a critical difference in the heirs’ ability to keep the land intact.