Donating a conservation easement is a gift to future generations that leaves a lasting legacy, preserving land and the lives and lifestyles that depend on it. It protects a community’s historic character and sense of place, and can be a source of family pride.
Landowners considering donating a conservation easement should anticipate these steps:
Step 1: Learn about conservation easements and discuss the merits of donating a conservation easement on your land with your family or other relevant persons.
Step 2: A conservation easement represents a partnership between the landowner and the land trust holding the easement. Take time to identify a suitable land trust to hold the conservation easement. Be sure that the organization’s mission and easement acceptance criteria fit with your own objectives for the future of the property. It is important that you are comfortable with the organization you select.
Step 3: Advise your attorney and accountant of your plans, and seek their assistance in structuring the transaction in a manner that best suites your particular legal and tax needs.
Step 4: Once you have agreed with a land trust to work together towards creation of an easement, you will work together to accomplish the following:
- Identify with the land trust the purposes of the conservation easement and the features of the property to be preserved. Discuss any specific uses you intend for the property.
- Property documentation, called a present conditions report, should be prepared.
- Title to the property should be reviewed to insure there are no impediments to creating the easement. Mortgagees must agree to subordinate any existing mortgages to the easement.
- Contract with a qualified real estate appraiser to value the conservation easement.
- Draft the conservation easement.
Step 5: When the necessary reports and documents have been prepared, the conservation easement is signed and recorded in the County records.
Step 6: Stewardship of the conservation easement requires periodic (typically annual) monitoring of the property by the land trust. The monitoring is to record natural or man-made changes to the property, to document the land use and management, and to note possible violations of the terms of the easement. Annual monitoring visits are an opportunity for the parties to discuss the land, the conservation easement, and any needs, concerns or difficulties the landowner may have. Land trusts request a one-time cash contribution to endow the perpetual monitoring of the property.
Step 7: Establish what costs will be necessary to complete the process. Landowners typically pay the cost of the appraisal, title commitment (if necessary), and baseline documentation. Land trusts often ask landowners to cover the costs they incur for legal review and to create a long-term monitoring endowment.