Keeping land in the family is a common goal for many landowners, but how do you actually pay for the long-term ownership and maintenance costs associated with the land?
The Thompson family has found a solution that works for them and their family retreat on 45 acres of woodlands in Leverett. Now owned by the fourth generation, the property is the site of the family’s 4th of July reunion, annual work parties, and lots of family vacations. As the property was about to be transferred from 3 members of one generation to the 12 members of the next, the family grappled with the challenge of keeping the property that they all loved affordable and accessible to future generations.
As a solution, they set up a trust that owns the farmhouse and land. Each of the three branches of the family has a one-third interest in the trust and is represented by one trustee. Bills for taxes, insurance, and mowing are split in thirds. The trust was set up so that individual family members could opt out, but could never be bought out, in order to keep participation affordable for the remaining members.
A bad storm a few years ago knocked down lots of trees on the property, which prompted the family to consider a more active approach to managing their woodlands. With the help of a consulting forester, they enrolled their land in Chapter 61, reducing their property tax burden, created a forest management plan, and began harvesting timber from the land. The income from the timber harvests went right back into maintaining and improving the property with projects such as a new porch. The harvests also cleared out some of the forest understory, making walking in the woods much easier and enjoyable, and created logging roads that the family now maintains for hiking trails. The family agrees that the timber harvests are a form of long-term land stewardship, which is providing income and helping them maintain this special place long into the future.