DONATING A CONSERVATION EASEMENT
The Keiser Easement along the Norwalk River
You may be a property owner who loves the natural beauty of your land yet realizes that someday it will pass on to new owners who could compromise this beauty—–perhaps clear cut the trees, or subdivide for development. There is, however, an option that can restrict what happens on your land. It’s called a conservation easement.
HERE ARE A FEW THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT CONSERVATION EASEMENTS:
- A conservation easement is a voluntary, legally binding agreement between a landowner and a land trust that permanently limits the use of your land.
- With a conservation easement, you continue to own and control your property; you can live on it, mortgage it, sell it, and pass it on to heirs. Future owners are bound by the terms of the easement. It may apply to all or a portion of your property and may or may not allow public access.
- Donating a conservation easement requires a working relationship with your land trust. A land trust may decline to accept a donation that does not meet both the legal requirements and the land trust’s own specific charitable mission and strategic plan.
- Donating a conservation easement is a big commitment requiring independent legal advice, a professional appraisal, and time for careful drafting of documents, maps, and baseline documentation.
- If you donate a conservation easement, you can take advantage of tax benefits based on the change in the value of the property as a result of granting the easement. One can never deduct more than the fair market value of the gift, as determined by a qualified appraisal. Typically, the highest value of an easement is on open space that meets the zoning requirements allowing it to be subdivided into parcels that can be developed. However, an conservation easement cannot serve to simply prevent development. It must be judged a true gift, for public benefit, by protecting significant natural, agricultural, or historic resources.
- If a donated conservation easement meets the requirements of the Internal Revenue Code, it can qualify as a charitable tax deduction on the donor’s federal income tax return. In 2015, Congress passed a law permanently enhancing the tax incentives of a donated easement by:
- Raising the deduction a donor can take from 30% to 50% of his or her annual income.
- Extending the carry-forward period of that deduction from 5 years to 15 years.
- Increasing the deduction allowed to farmers and ranchers from 50% to 100%
A Wilton resident considering the donation of a conservation easement can learn more by contacting the Wilton Land Conservation Trust: