Conservation & Stewardship
“Across America, thousands of people are determined to conserve the places they value. Landowners have a deep connection to their land and know the gifts undeveloped properties provide their communities: clean air and water, wildlife habitat, fresh food, and sheer scenic beauty.”
Conservation Options for Landowners
You own land that is open space and you want to preserve the beauty and feel of this open space … how do you do it? There are two basic ways to preserve and protect open space in perpetuity. One is a Land Donation (a fee title transfer) to the Darien Land Trust. With this transfer of title the Darien Land Trust owns and maintains the land. The second option is to grant the Land Trust a Conservation Easement. With a Conservation Easement, the family continues to own and maintain the land but gives up the development rights.
Within both options, there are several different ways to proceed to the goal of preserving open space. Both Land Donation and Conservation Easements provide tax strategies that will often serve to benefit your family. It is important to meet with an attorney and/or tax specialist to determine the exact tax benefit in each situation. Often the total value of the gift is tax deductible whether against income tax, capital gains or in an estate plan.
There are several different ways to donate land to the Darien Land Trust. One is an outright donation and title transfer. A donor would give the land to the Darien Land Trust outright and would likely take the appraised value as a tax deduction. A family may grant title during their lifetime or in their estate plan and will. This is particularly helpful when the land has been held for many years by the family and is highly appreciated.
Another option is a bargain sale of land. If the donor needs to realize immediate income from selling his/her land, yet would like the property to go to the Land Trust, then a bargain sale is a good option to that end. In a bargain sale, the family would sell the land to the Land Trust for less than fair market value. This offers several benefits to the family, provides immediate cash and a tax deduction based on the difference between the land’s fair market value and the sale price. The Land Trust can work with neighbors and land trust donors to provide the balance of funding.
There are several other options available such as remainder interest and reserved life estate. These are lesser used tools in our area and can be outlined in depth by an attorney versed in these options.
The second way to achieve the goal of preserving open space in perpetuity is to grant the Darien Land Trust a Conservation Easement. A Conservation Easement is a legal agreement between a homeowner and the Land Trust that rides with the deed in perpetuity. This means that the family gives up the right to develop the part of the property that is covered by the conservation easement, yet the family still retains title to the land. The Land Trust would monitor the property regularly to make sure that the agreement is honored to allow no development. This option lessens the deductibility somewhat as ownership stays with the family and they benefit from being able to use the land in a specific way, as outlined in the agreement.
Qualifying for a Tax Deduction
If the donation of a conservation easement 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. Conservation Easement values vary greatly;in general, the highest easement values result from very restrictive conservation easements of developable open space. In some cases, placing an easement on your property may also result in property tax savings.( For the latest information on federal tax law for conservation easements, visit the Land Trust Alliance’s website: www.landtrustalliance.org.)
The amount of the tax deductible donation is the difference between the land value with and without the easement. In most cases the land owner will donate the conservation easement, but the easements may be purchased by the Land Trust, as well.
Call us! The DLT has a Land Review Committee that meets monthly to review potential properties and to assist families in their desire to preserve and protect open space.
Please contact our Executive Director Elizabeth Harmon at 203-655-4148 or [email protected].
Further information and suggested reading is available on the websites of the Land Trust Alliance (www.lta.org) and the Trust for Public Land (www.tpl.org).
P.O. Box 1074, Darien CT 06820