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Conservation Easements

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Civil War Trust Land Preservation Techniques

The Civil War Trust, a land trust that preserves Civil War battlefields greatly appreciates your desire to preserve your historically important land. Below is a general description of conservation easements, which enable you to preserve your land and receive financial benefits:

What is a Conservation Easement?

A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values. It allows you to continue to own and use your land and to sell it or pass it on to heirs.

When you donate a conservation easement to a land trust, you give up certain development rights. For example, you might give up the right to build apartment buildings, stores, additional houses, and other structures. However, if your land is used as a farm, it can be maintained as a farm with the right to grow crops.

Future owners also will be bound by the easement's terms, even after you sell or transfer the land. The land trust is responsible for making sure the easement's terms are followed.

Conservation easements offer great flexibility. For example, an easement on a farm might allow continued farming and the building of additional agricultural structures. An easement may apply to just a portion of the property and need not require public access.

A landowner sometimes sells a conservation easement, but usually easements are donated. If the donation 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. The amount of the donation is the difference between the land's value with the easement and its value without the easement. Placing an easement on your property may possibly result in property tax savings depending on the locality and situation.

Perhaps most important, a conservation easement can be essential for passing land on to the next generation. By removing the land's development potential, the easement lowers its market value, which in turn lowers estate tax. Whether the easement is donated during life or by will, it can make a critical difference in the heirs' ability to keep the land intact.

Why should I grant a conservation easement to a land trust?

People execute a conservation easement because they love their open space land, and want to protect their land from inappropriate development while keeping their private ownership of the property. Granting an easement to an organization that qualifies under the Internal Revenue Code as a "public charity" - which the Civil War Trust does - can yield income and estate tax savings. Moreover, land trusts have the expertise and experience to work with landowners and ensure that the land will remain as permanent open space.

Are conservation easements popular?

They are very popular. In the 5 years between 1998 and 2003, the amount of land protected by local and regional land trusts using easements tripled to 5 million acres. Landowners have found that conservation easements can be flexible tools, and yet provide a permanent guarantee that the land won't ever be developed. Conservation easements are used to protect all types of land, including coastlines; farm and ranchland; historical or cultural landscapes; scenic views; streams and rivers; trails; wetlands; wildlife areas; and working forests.

How can a conservation easement be tailored to my needs and desires?

An easement restricts development to the degree that is necessary to protect the significant preservation values of that particular property. Landowners and land trusts, working together, can write conservation easements that reflect both the landowner's desires and the need to protect conservation values. Even the most restrictive easements typically permit landowners to continue such traditional uses of the land as farming and ranching.

What steps do I take to write a conservation easement?

Discuss with a real estate officer of the Civil War Trust what you want to do with your land (for example, you want to maintain the land as a farm or harvest timber.). Always consult with any co-owners of the property regarding an easement, and remember that you should consult with your own attorney or financial advisor regarding such a decision.

How long does a conservation easement last?

Most easements "run with the land," binding the original owner and all subsequent owners to the easement's restrictions. The easement is recorded at the county or town records office so that all future owners and lenders will learn about the restrictions when they obtain title reports.

What are the Trust's responsibilities regarding conservation easements?

The Civil War Trust is responsible for enforcing the restrictions that the easement document spells out. Therefore, the Trust monitors the property on a regular basis -- typically once a year - to determine that the property remains in the condition prescribed by the easement document. The Trust maintains written records of these monitoring visits, which also provide the landowner a chance to keep in touch with the Trust.

Thank you for your interest in preserving your land!

Please contact Tom Gilmore, Director of Real Estate of the Civil War Trust at (202) 367-1861 x7227 or for more information.