A decision to conserve land is a personal one.
It involves the your financial and tax circumstances, the land resource itself, and most importantly, your vision for the future of that land. Because every situation is unique, Conserving Carolina offers several different options for conserving productive and scenic lands that give our region and its communities their rural character.
For landowners who share the goals of Conserving Carolina, the options described here may provide means for you to achieve a personal dream: that of forever protecting an important part of the landscape. Some of these conservation techniques involve project costs and long-term stewardship costs. Management of these costs vary based on individual project circumstances.
To discuss options for conserving your land, please contact Tom Fanslow, Land Protection Director, at (828) 697-5777 ext. 204.
Land Conservation Options
- Donation of a conservation easement
- Donation of land
- Donation of a remainder interest
- Bequest and living trust
- Purchase of a conservation easement
Donation of a Conservation Easement
A conservation easement is the most widely used land protection tool available to landowners. Donating a conservation easement protects your land permanently, yet keeps it in private ownership. Easements are flexible and easily tailored to meet your needs. As part of giving a conservation easement, you will work with us to identify specific permitted uses of the property. These normally include agriculture, forestry, recreation, and other open space uses. The easement limits or prohibits certain activities, including industrial, commercial, and residential development.
Conservation easements are designed to forever conserve the important natural resources of each property. An easement may cover portions of a property or the entire parcel. It is legally binding on all future owners and will be monitored by Conserving Carolina’s Stewardship staff.
Donation of Land
An outright gift of land for conservation is one of the most generous legacies you can leave for future generations. Throughout our region there are parks, forestlands, and scenic open spaces that the public enjoys because of the long-term vision of conservation-minded landowners.
Donating land has many benefits. It can be a relatively simple and quick transaction that:
- Assures the permanent protection of a family property.
- Provides a charitable income tax-deduction for the full fair market value of the land.
- Avoids capital gains taxes on appreciated land, which otherwise would be due at the time of a sale.
- Removes the property from the donor’s taxable estate.
- Releases the donor from the expense and the responsibility of managing the land.
- Provides long-term support for Conserving Carolina.
In cases where land provides important public benefit, we might convey the gifted property to government agencies to ensure that the public will own and enjoy the property for the long term. We believe in most cases, however, private owners are the best long-term managers of land. When we receive a gift of conservation land where private ownership is the best outcome, we will place a permanent conservation easement on the property and then sell the land. We will use the proceeds to protect other conservation lands throughout western North Carolina and upstate South Carolina.
Donation of a Remainder Interest
You can donate land and continue to live on it during your lifetime. This is known as a gift of a remainder interest or a gift of land with a reserved life estate.
With a gift of a remainder interest, you and your beneficiaries reserve the right to continue to live on and use the property. At the end of the specified life interests, full title and control of the property automatically transfers to Conserving Carolina. In most cases we resell the land subject to a permanent conservation easement. Thus, the final outcome is very similar to that of an outright gift of land.
The donation of a remainder interest offers several advantages:
- The donors continue to use and enjoy the property throughout their lifetimes.
- The property is permanently conserved.
- The donor may be entitled to an income tax deduction when the gift is made, if the property is a personal residence, farm, or land having conservation value.
- The proceeds from the sale of the property support Conserving Carolina’s land conservation program after the life interests conclude.
Bequest and Living Trust
Many landowners wish to retain maximum flexibility during their lifetimes and choose to carry out their conservation plans through a bequest or a living trust. You can conserve important lands by donating property or donating a conservation easement through your Will.
A bequest is a provision in your Will or a codicil (a Will amendment) that instructs the estate’s executor to convey land or a conservation easement to Conserving Carolina. A living trust can achieve the same results, but avoids the probate process.
Both the bequest and the living trust can assure the permanent protection of the land, allow you to control the property during your lifetime, and may reduce your taxable estate. In either case, the terms of an easement can be developed through discussions with us, to achieve the goals of both.
Purchase of Conservation Easements
Conserving Carolina purchases conservation easements primarily on outstanding properties that are eligible for grant funding from sources such as the North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund. We might, in special instances, purchase easements on land that a community has identified as extremely important. In each of these cases, private contributions and/or public grants make the purchase possible.
A two-step appraisal process determines the purchase price of the easement. The property is valued before and after the land is restricted. The difference between these appraisals is the value of the conservation easement.
Bargain-Purchase of Easements and Land
Another approach providing advantages to you and Conserving Carolina is a bargain-purchase—selling a conservation property or easement to Conserving Carolina at less than full market value and donating the remaining value. This combines the income-producing aspects of a land sale with the tax benefits of a donation. The difference between the fair market value (as determined by appraisal) and the sale price is treated as a charitable contribution and can significantly reduce any capital gains taxes payable on the sale. For Conserving Carolina, bargain purchases make land and easement purchases more affordable.
Purchase of Land
Occasionally, Conserving Carolina is called upon to protect a property that has exceptional conservation values of local, regional, or state-wide significance. Such purchases depend on public and private fundraising. We rarely retain ownership of the land for the long-term. In some cases our role is to facilitate public ownership – we will convey properties to public agencies to be used as public recreation areas, state wildlife areas, state or national forests, or historic sites. Other lands may be sold to a private landowner subject to a conservation easement that permanently conserves the land.
Right of First Refusal or Option
These two techniques provide for future land conservation. If you cannot afford to donate or bargain-sell an important conservation property to Conserving Carolina and are not ready to discuss a conservation plan, you may consider a right of first refusal. This right provides Conserving Carolina with the opportunity to match your purchase offer at a future time, if and when, you elect to sell the property.
An option agreement is a contract where you would offer Conserving Carolina a fixed period of time (normally a period of three to twelve months) to make a decision to purchase either a conservation easement or the property outright. Conserving Carolina is not required to exercise its right to purchase, but can instead use the option period to develop a conservation plan and seek funding sources to conserve the property. The option agreement either specifies a fixed purchase price or identifies a method—such as appraisal—by which the purchase price will be determined. An option can also provide for a bargain-sale of the easement or conservation property.