Land Conservation Options

For many landowners and families, the natural beauty and legacy values of their land are at least equally important as its financial value. Your land may be where you raised a family, explored nature, worked in the woods, and took walks.

To meet their family’s personal needs or out of a desire to preserve nature, some landowners limit the types of activities that happen on the land in the future so that all or some of it will stay in its natural or undeveloped state through the use of land conservation tools. In addition, these land conservation tools often provide some positive financial values through income or tax savings.

Understanding these options is an important step in deciding the future of your land. Below are descriptions of commonly used land conservation tools and links to stories of families from across the state who have used them to achieve their goals. Speaking with a land protection specialist working for a land trust can help you determine which tool may be right for you. Find a land trust in your town.

Donating or Selling Conservation Restrictions. Your land includes several different types of rights, including the right to develop your land, farm, hunt, and manage your woods. A conservation restriction (known as a conservation easement in states other than Massachusetts) is a legal agreement that extinguishes some or all of the development rights of the land forever, but allows your other rights such as farming, forestry, and recreation to continue, all while maintaining your ownership of the land.

A conservation restriction (CR) is a flexible tool that can be placed on all or only designated parts of your land, allowing you to reserve house lots to provide financial value or housing options for your family. Some CRs allow public access, others do not—it usually depends on which organization you work with and whether you are receiving funds for your CR.

A CR can be donated, which often provides the landowner with a tax deduction for a charitable gift. Learn more about some of the tax incentives for donating a CR.  A CR can be sold for income if the land has exceptional natural resources. A CR can also be sold below market value for both income and tax benefits (see “Bargain Sale” below).

Read stories about landowners who used conservation restrictions to reach their goals.

Donating or Selling Land. Land can be permanently protected by donating it or selling it to a qualified conservation organization, such as a land trust or state conservation organization. Donations of land may provide significant tax advantages as a charitable gift. Learn more about some of the tax incentives for donating land.

Read stories about landowners who donated or sold their land to reach their goals.

Bargain Sale. Landowners can sell their land or conservation restrictions at a price below its fair market value. The difference between the appraised market value and the sale price to a qualified conservation organization, such as a land trust or a state conservation organization, is considered a tax-deductible charitable contribution, providing some income and potentially some tax benefits.  Learn more about some of the tax benefits for bargain sales.

Read stories about landowners who used a bargain sale to reach their goals.

Bequest. A donation of land or a conservation restriction through your will is another way to ensure your land’s permanent protection and potentially to reduce your estate tax burden. You can change your will at any time, and a bequest does not become effective until your death. This is a good approach if you need to keep the financial value of your property in reserve in case of unexpected medical bills or other needs, but want to be sure the land will be conserved if you do not need to sell it during your lifetime.

Reserved Life Estate. Landowners sometimes negotiate a gift or sale of the property while reserving the right to occupy and use the property for life. Upon the death of the landowner, control of the property automatically transfers to a conservation organization. The gift of a property with a reserved life estate can qualify the donor for a charitable deduction based on the value of the property donated and the value of the reserved life estate, which is all based on the donor’s age.

Limited Development. Limited development is an option that protects the majority of the land while a small portion is sold or maintained by the landowner for future development. In a limited development scenario, the areas with the greatest conservation value are protected through one of the tools described above, while other less sensitive areas of the land are set aside for future development.

Read stories of landowners who used limited development to reach their landowner goals.