What is a Land Trust?
A land trust is a nonprofit organization that actively works to conserve land by undertaking or assisting in land or conservation easement acquisition, or by its stewardship of such land or easements. The Central Coast Land Conservancy is a non-profit, tax-exempt corporation recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as an appropriate organization to received and act as steward for conservation easements. Property or easements can be donated to a land trust or sold.
Why Conserve Your Land?
Landowners typically choose to conserve their property because the land holds special value to them. Some families want to preclude future conflicts over family property among their children and they conserve the land to “keep peace in the family” by maintaining family land while dismissing future notions of subdivisions or other development. Others simply want the security of knowing their property will always provide fish and wildlife habitat, open space and scenery, regardless of future ownership.
What are Conservation Easements?
A Conservation Easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust created by both parties to protect certain natural and traditional values of the property in perpetuity.
Each Conservation Easement, or CE, is unique to the specific property for which it is written, and based on the landowner’s needs and long-term goals. A typical CE migh limit timber harvest, future land divisions, construction of additional homes or other uses that might harm the habitat values of the property. Land placed into a Conservation Easement still belongs to the landowner, who can continue to live on and manage the land consistent with the values the CE seeks to protect. The land and its associated Conservation Easement can be passed on or sold like any other piece of property.
The role of Central Coast Land Conservancy in holding the easement is to ensure that mutually agreed-upon terms and conditions of the CE are honored over time.
Does Land with a Conservation Easement Remain Private Property?
Yes! With a conservation easement, the landowner retains full ownership of the property, including all rights as reserved in the CE. Land protected by a CE may be sold, bequeathed, mortgaged or otherwise transferred like any other property. The easement is permanently recorded with the deed and remains with the land regardless of future ownership
How do Conservation Easement Transactions Occur?
CE’s are often donated by landowners, who may realize significant tax savings from their contribution. In other cases, a land trust can purchase CE’s from willing sellers at fair market value, or a discounted value, assuming adequate funding can be secured by the land trust.
Some landowners who donate or sell easements to the land trust also contribute financially to a CE Stewardship Fund to help the Conservancy with protecting the property over time.
How are Conservation Easements Valued?
The monetary value of a Conservation Easement is determined in a fair market appraisal by a qualified appraiser. It equals the difference between the value of the property unencumbered by the Conservation Easement and the property’s value computed with the CE in place.
What Kinds of Conservation Easements Exist?
There are as many kinds of CE’s as there are people and landscapes. Most serve to protect fish and wildlife habitat, historic and cultural lands, and open ground. Some CE’s allow public access while others do not, depending on the landowner’s wishes.
What Tax Benefits are Associated with Conservation Easements?
Conserving land can also result in income tax benefits, as the donation of a CE may be treated as a charitable gift by the Internal Revenues Service, making the value of the CE tax-deductible. Potential reduction of estate taxes can limit the strain on future heirs and aid in intergenerational transfers of intact properties. Each landowner and their legal counsel must consider these issues and their own situation.