MWA: Murray Wise Associates

Conservation Easements – Some Things To Think About

This fall, we had the opportunity to market two properties with two very different types of conservation easements. (Think permanent easement, rather than a term program such as the Conservation Reserve Program, or CRP.)

The first owner used a conservation easement to preserve prime central Illinois farmland, ensuring it would remain in production and never be developed. The second owner used a conservation easement to establish a large wetlands area for wildlife protection and recreational enjoyment.

Obviously, as these two examples show, conservation can have different meanings for different landowners. In both instances, however, the landowners used conservation easements to help achieve their personal goals for the land.

While setting up a conservation easement can provide certain tax incentives and benefits to you as a landowner, your approach to setting up a conservation easement should be cautious, considering both your short-and long-term goals for the property, as well as the financial implications and your emotional ties to the property. Each situation is unique. This list of some of the broader pros and cons may give you an idea of what to consider if you are thinking about a conservation easement for your property.

Pros:

  • You may qualify for personal income tax deductions similar to those available for making charitable donations.
  • The easement may result in a potential reduction in estate taxes when the property is passed to the next generation.
  • Easements can be tailored to meet the desires of the individual property owner.
  • Conservation easements may provide you with the ability to protect high-quality farmland or sensitive wetlands from development.
  • The property owner retains the right to use the land for crop production, recreation or even specific construction projects as outlined in the easement.

Cons:

  • A conservation easement is typically perpetual.
  • A future owner or your heirs may not have the same affinity for conservation as you do.
  • The future value of the property will likely be diminished as a result of the restrictions of the easement.
  • Not all land will qualify for a conservation easement.
  • Setting up an easement can be complicated, and you may incur some costs. Hiring an experienced attorney and planning with a tax accountant is highly recommended.