Landowners have many options available to them when making long-term conservation plans for their property. A variety of techniques can be tailored to fit your unique circumstances. Selecting one or several of these options depends on the natural characteristics of the land, financial objectives of the individual or family, stewardship, and personal issues concerning tax and estate planning. Your legal advisor and the professional conservation staff can assist in reviewing your conservation options. Brief descriptions are provided of several options that may be considered, and information about how the Partnership can help you realize your goals.
Conservation Options: Retaining Ownership and Management
If your goals include retaining the ownership and management of your land and protecting it for future generations, a conservation easement ensures permanent protection of the natural resource while leaving its use and management in private hands.
If you own land, you have certain rights to use or modify the resources – soil, minerals, trees, vegetation – as well as the right to sell or transfer the ownership of the land, subdivide and develop it.
A conservation easement is a restriction placed on a property or a portion of a property to protect its ecological, natural resource, agricultural or open space values. It is a voluntary, legally binding agreement that places limitations on certain types of uses or prevents other uses altogether, such as subdivision and development. Through a conservation easement, a landowner voluntarily agrees to donate or sell these restrictions, and a private organization or public agency agrees to monitor property to ensure that the uses of the property are in compliance with the conservation easement. New Hampshire law authorizes conservation easements in RSA 477:45-47.
A landowner may choose to either donate or sell a conservation easement to a qualified organization, such as a government entity or private nonprofit 501(c) conservation organization. If donated, income tax benefits may be realized by the landowner.
Working together, the landowner and grantee can determine appropriate land uses, evaluate the significant resources, and tailor the easement’s restrictions to the particular property. Identifying land set aside for “limited development” of an additional house site(s) may be negotiated in certain cases.
Conservation Options: Relinquishing Ownership and Management
If your goals include relinquishing the ownership and management of your land and protecting it for future generations, there are several options:
Sale and Bargain Sale of Land
If funding is available, and the land meets the Partnership’s conservation criteria, the Partnership can buy land “in fee” and become the full owner of the land. If the landowner is willing to sell for less than the appraised fair market value, known as a “bargain sale”, income tax benefits may be realized. The sale of your land can also be tailored to allow you to live on the land for a period of years or for the rest of your life.
Gift of Land
A landowner can choose to donate or “gift” their property to a qualified organization. Substantial income and estate tax benefits may be realized by the landowner. Gifts of land can be given during your lifetime, or through your will. Gifts of land can also be tailored to allow you to live on the land for a period of years or for the rest of your life.
The appraised value of a donated conservation easement or land in fee to an organization in the Partnership may be used to “leverage” grant funds to purchase other significant lands.
Depending on many factors, donors of land or easements may realize substantial income and estate tax advantages. Landowners are advised to work with their legal counsel and financial advisor in considering their options.
Income taxes: The donation or bargain sale of land or an easement constitutes a charitable gift, which may be deductible for federal income tax purposes. To be deductible, the land or easement donated must meet certain minimum conservation objectives established by the federal government.
Estate taxes: Federal inheritance taxes on unrestricted land may be so high that the heirs are forced to sell some or all of the land just to pay those taxes. Because an easement reduces the value of the property and therefore the value of the landowner’s estate, the inheritance taxes are also reduced. Thus an easement may enable the heirs to keep land that they otherwise would have to sell. Gifting land or selling land in fee also reduces the value of the estate and inheritance taxes.
Property taxes: Most property protected under a conservation easement qualifies for reduced taxation under current use assessment. Landowners whose property is already enrolled in current use will rarely see any further reduction in property taxes as the result of granting a conservation easement.
Ownership and Management of Land and Conservation Easements
Several of the Partner organizations are qualified to accept land and conservation easements. These organizations and agencies take on the responsibility to be stewards of the in-fee lands and conservation easements in perpetuity. Regular monitoring of lands is conducted to determine that the restrictions have not been violated and the natural resources remain protected. Management plans that guide resource management decisions are developed for lands owned by Partner organizations and agencies, and in collaboration with landowners for conservation easement lands. Depending on factors such as the type of ownership (in fee or conservation easement), the terms of the conservation easement, resource characteristics and location, lands may be managed for multiple conservation benefits.