Frequently Asked Questions
Over the years, we've heard many questions about how we acquire land, what we do with it and how our donors benefit from their donations. This is an attempt to answer those questions and an invitation to call us to ask any questions we may have overlooked.
What does the Land Trust do?
We acquire land and conservation easements so the land can be preserved in its natural state for the benefit of the community and the environment.
Does the Land Trust ever purchase land?
Most land owned by the Land Trust has been given to us. But occasionally, we are given donations (often by a group of neighbors) so that a parcel of special interest to the neighborhood and the Land Trust can be purchased by the Land Trust. Any land purchased by the Land Trust must be appraised to make sure we are paying no more than the fair market value of the land.
So what is a conservation easement?
It's an agreement, signed by the land owner and the Land Trust, that transfers the landowner's right to develop the property to the Land Trust. After both parties have signed this document, it is recorded by the Warren Town Clerk.
Do I still own my land, even though there's a conservation easement on it?
Yes. You still own your land. And when you go to sell your property, the next owner will take title to your property subject to the conservation easement already recorded on the land records.
Do I have to grant such an easement on my entire property?
No. You can grant such an easement on a part of your property. You'll just need to get a survey to show the part of your property that will be subject to the conservation easement.
Example: Suppose you own 60 acres of land. Your house, barn and yard take up about 10 acres, and rest of the land is woodlands. You would like to continue living in your house, but want to be able to sell it some day if you need to. At the same time, you don't want to see your land developed after it is out of your hands. You understand that giving away any of some of your property rights may decrease its sale value, but feel it's worth it in order to see the woodlands preserved forever. You decide to grant the Land Trust a conservation easement on the 50 acres of woodlands and may receive a significant tax deduction for this gift to the Land Trust.
Are all conservation easements alike?
No. If your conservation easement is on forest land or open space, your easement will say that this land must remain this way and that no buildings can be constructed within the easement area. If your conservation easement is on farmland, your easement will restrict the future use of this land to farming and agricultural structures.
So how long does a conservation easement last?
Okay, so I've put a conservation easement on my land. What do I get for it?
Well, aside from the knowledge that you have done something good for the planet, you may get a nice tax deduction. The Land Trust is a 501(c)(3) organization, and your conservation easement is a gift to a charity. The WLT does not give tax advice. All donor should consult with their attorney and accountant for additional information.
How do I figure out what I can get as a tax deduction?
If you grant a conservation easement to the Land Trust, your tax deduction is equal to the fair market value of the development rights you have just given away. This must be confirmed by your attorney and accountant.
Who figures this out?
You or the Land Trust hires an appraiser who specializes in the appraisal of conservation easements. The appraiser actually does two appraisals. One for the fair market value of your land without the conservation easement and one for the fair market value of your land with the conservation easement. The difference between these two appraisals is the value of the conservation easement – and the amount of your tax deduction.
Example: Suppose you still own those 60 acres and are willing to put a conservation easement on the 50 acres that are forest. Your appraiser determines that your 60-acre parcel could be subdivided into 6 building lots (the building lot on which you house and barn are located and 5 more building lots, worth a total of $1,000,000). You appraiser also puts a value of $400,000 on the 10-acre parcel on which your house is located and a value of $200,000 on the50 acres after the conservation easement is granted. Therefore, the value of the conservation easement and the value of your tax deduction is $400,000.
Is there a limit on this deduction?
Yes. Your tax deduction can't be more than 50 percent of your adjusted gross income in any one tax year.
What if I don't use up my entire deduction in one year?
You can "roll over" your tax deduction for 15 additional years, until the entire deduction is used up.
Does a direct gift of the land work the same way?
Actually, a direct gift is much simpler. You simply get an appraisal of the parcel you are giving away. The amount of your tax deductible gift is the fair market value of this parcel, as determined by the appraisal.
So what does the Land Trust do with an outright gift of land?
That property now belongs to the Land Trust, and we are obligated to preserve it in its natural condition for perpetuity. If you wish, we will post a sign saying that the property is owned by the Warren Land Trust and identifying you as its donor. Occasionally, we will create a hiking trail on one of our properties, which is what we did on the Dorothy Maier Preserve across from Warren School.
I'm interested. What will I need to go through this process?
You'll need a lawyer, an appraiser and your own accountant. You'll also need a surveyor unless a survey already exists for the property you intend to donate.
Seems like a lot of legal stuff?
It is, but the Land Trust is in a position to guide and advise you in the process but you must have an attorney and accountant.
How do I make all this happen?
Just give us a call or send us an email. Our President is Rebecca Neary, who can be reached at email@example.com. You can also visit our web site, www.warrenlandtrust.org for more information, including sample conservation easements.
Why is it important to be an accredited land trust?
The accreditation seal stands for Excellence - Trust - Permanence.
The seal is a mark of distinction in land conservation. It is awarded to land trusts meeting the highest national standards for excellence and conservation permanence. Each accredited land trust completes a rigorous review process and joins a network of organizations united by strong ethical practices. This trusted network of land trusts has demonstrated fiscal accountability, strong organizational leadership, sound transactions and lasting stewardship of the lands they conserve. The seal is awarded by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, a program of the Land Trust Alliance to build and recognize strong land trusts, foster public confidence in land conservation and help ensure the long-term protection of land.