What is a Land Trust?

A land trust is a nonprofit organization that works to conserve land by undertaking or assisting in land or conservation easement acquisition, or by its stewardship of such land or easements. Land trusts may protect land through donation and purchase, by working with landowners who wish to donate or sell conservation easements (permanent deed restrictions that prevent harmful land uses), or by acquiring land outright to maintain working farms, forests, wilderness, or for other conservation reasons.

What Does a Land Trust Do?

Southington Land Conservation Trust, Inc. is a 501(c) 3 charitable organization under federal tax laws. We are directly involved in conserving land for its natural, recreational, scenic, historical and productive values. Land trusts can purchase land for permanent protection, or they may use one of several other methods: accepting donations of land, cash, securities or other assets to purchase land, accept a bequest, or accept the donation of a conservation easement. A conservation easement permanently limits the type and scope of development that can take place on the land. In some instances, land trusts also purchase conservation easements.

How can I protect my beautiful open space land from future development?

By working with a nonprofit land trust, you can decide the best way to protect your land. You can make an outright donation of your property. You may choose the donation or sale of a conservation easement that permanently restricts development, the bargain sale of your property, and several other variations. You should always have legal advice before embarking on such a decision.

What is a Conservation Easement?

A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and the land trust that permanently limits 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 give up some of the rights associated with the land. Future owners also will be bound by the easement’s terms. The land trust is responsible for making sure the easement’s terms are followed. An easement may apply to just a portion of the property, and need not require public access. If the donation benefits the public by permanently protecting important conservation resources and meets other federal tax code requirements it can qualify as a tax-deductible charitable donation. It may reduce income and estate taxes. The amount of the donation is the difference between the land’s value with the easement and its value without the easement. Placing an easement on your property may or may not result in property tax savings.

Why should I grant a conservation easement to a land trust?

People create a conservation easement because they love their open space land and want to keep their private ownership of the property. Granting an easement to a conservation organization that qualifies under the Internal Revenue Code as a “public charity” – which nearly all land trusts do – may yield income and estate tax savings.

How can a conservation easement be tailored to my needs and desires?

An easement restricts development to the degree that is necessary to protect the significant conservation values of that particular property. Landowners and land trusts, working together, can write conservation easements that reflect both the landowner’s desires and the need to protect conservation values.

What steps do I take to write a conservation easement?

First, contact the Southington Land Conservation Trust at southingtonlandtrust.org and explore with us the conservation values you want to protect on the land. Discuss with the land trust what you want to accomplish, and what development rights you may want to retain. Always consult with other family members regarding an easement, and remember that you should consult with your own attorney and financial advisor regarding such a substantial decision and any tax benefits you may receive.

How long does a conservation easement last?

Most easements “run with the land,” binding the original owner and all subsequent owners to the easement’s restrictions. Only gifts of perpetual easements can qualify for income and estate tax benefits. The easement is recorded on the town land records, so that all future owners and lenders will learn about the restrictions when they obtain title reports.

What are a land trust's responsibilities regarding conservation easements?

The land trust is responsible for enforcing the restrictions that the easement document spells out. Therefore, the land trust monitors the property on a regular basis — typically once a year – to determine that the property remains in the condition prescribed by the easement document. The land trust maintains written records of these monitoring visits, which also provide the landowner a chance to keep in touch with the land trust. Many land trusts establish endowments to provide for long-term stewardship of the easements they hold.

What are the economic impacts to my community of conserving open space?

Many reports have shown that conserving open space in communities around the U.S. attracts jobs, enhances property values, and saves billions in government costs

Are there tax benefits associated with land protection?

There may be income, estate and property tax benefits for donating your land, donating a conservation easement, or selling the property as a “bargain sale” at below market value. The amount and type of tax benefits depends on a variety of factors, including the legal tool you’ve used to protect your land, the value of the donation, your income level and the total amount of your estate. Again, you should consult with a financial advisor and an attorney to fully understand the tax implications.

Information obtained from the Land Trust Alliance.
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