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Nonprofits, Are You Familiar with Conservation Easements?

March 28, 2022

Attention nonprofits, are you up to speed on conservation easements and how they can benefit you and the community? We have the basics here.

Conservation easements provide a seemingly easy way for property owners to both satisfy their charitable inclinations and secure a valuable federal income tax deduction. But how does a property owner go about conserving their land and what are your benefits?

Find a local Land Trust

A Land Trust is a nonprofit organization that all or part of its mission actively works to conserve land. A Land Trust does this by:

  • Acquiring land or conservation easements (or assisting with their acquisition), and/or
  • Stewarding/managing land or conservation easements.

The role of the Land Trust is to make sure that the restrictions described in the easement are followed. The Land Trust has the responsibility to monitor the property on a regular basis to ensure that any landowners are consistently following the restrictions on the easement. If necessary, the Land Trust is responsible for taking legal action to enforce the easement.

What is a Conservation Easement?

A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and land trust (or another qualified organization) that permanently restricts the use of real property granted exclusively for conservation purposes. The landowner will retain many of their rights, including the right to own and use the land, sell it and pass it on to their heirs.

A conservation purpose means:

  1. The preservation of land area for outdoor recreation by, or the education of, the general public
  2. The protection of a relatively natural habitat of fish, wildlife, plants, or similar ecosystems.
  3. The preservation of open space (including farm and forest land) where such preservation will yield a significant public benefit and is for the scenic enjoyment of the general public or is pursuant to a clearly delineated federal, state or local governmental conservation policy; or
  4. The preservation of a historically important land area or a certified historic structure.

What is a qualified organization?

A qualified organization means an organization which is:

  1. A governmental unit described in section 170 (c )(1)
  2. A publicly supported charitable organization described in sections 509(a )(1) and 170(b)(1)(A)(vi) or section 509(a )(2).
  3. A supporting organization described in sections 501(c )(3) and 509 (a )(3) that is controlled by a governmental unit or a publicly supported charitable organization.

In addition, a qualified organization must have a commitment to protect the conservation purposes of a qualified conservation contribution and have the resources to enforce the restrictions.

What is a Qualified Conservation Contribution?

A qualified conservation contribution is any contribution of a qualified real property interest to a qualified organization exclusively for conservation purposes. A “qualified real property interest” means any of the following interests in real property.

  1. The entire interest of the donor.
  2. The remainder interest.
  3. A restriction (such as an easement), granted in perpetuity, on the use which may be made of the real property.

How do you go about making a conservation easement donation?

Start by researching land trusts near you! Get to know the land trust to ensure that they meet the needs of your project. Discuss your plans about your conservation values and how you want to use the land. Make sure you are comfortable with this decision and the Land Trust you are working with.

How this benefits you!

A conservation easement donation can result in significant tax benefits, if it meets the requirements of federal law. It may lower your federal income tax, because you can claim the value of the easement as a tax-deductible charitable donation. It may also lower your state income tax, depending on your state laws.

A conservation easement is that it helps you pass on your land to the next generation. A conservation easement helps you plan for the future of the land and it can significantly lower your estate taxes.

Questions? Contact us.

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