Before you can decide what is right for you and your land, you need to learn some basic definitions.
- Whole Interests in Land versus Conservation Easements – There are two basic kinds of conservation transactions: “whole interests in land” and “conservation easements.” Just like it sounds, whole interests represent the landowner’s entire interest. When a landowner grants his whole interest, he no longer retains any ownership of the property. In contrast, when a landowner donates a conservation easement, he continues to own the property but gives up the right to develop it in certain ways. To learn more about conservation easements, take the Conservation Easements Quiz.
- Donations, Purchases, and Bargain Sales – A donation occurs when a private landowner gives the property to a land trust or government agency for nothing in return. In some cases, land trusts or governments will have funds available to purchase land or easements. A bargain sale is a hybrid between a donation and a purchase. A bargain sale occurs when a private landowner receives some money in return for the property, but not the fair market value. For example, let’s say you own property worth $100,00 and sell it to a land trust for $60,000. You have made a bargain sale, and may claim a deduction for the value of the property, $40,000, that was donated.
- Land Trusts – A land trust is a nonprofit organization that aims to protect land from development. Land trusts are not government entities, although they often work closely with governments. Land trusts are also not trusts in the legal sense of the word, as in a family trust. For a list of land trusts in your area, visit the Maine Land Trust Network.
- Gifts During Life and Bequests – Most people grant a conservation easement while they are alive in order to benefit from the substantial income tax and property tax savings. However, some individuals are not in a position to make a gift during their lifetime. Instead, they may choose to add a codicil to their will in which they make a bequest. By doing so, they can still benefit from significant estate tax savings.