Estate and financial planning are wise moves, especially if land is one of your major assets. Your goals for your land, your finances and your legacy should be considered together. They are interlinked.
Know your financial situation
You’ll want to understand your future financial resources before deciding on permanent conservation actions for your land. For example, if your land is your only source of funds for major expenses late in life, you might need to consider a bequest for conservation (rather than a donation today) so you can retain the flexibility to sell land if necessary to fund your needs.
Share your conservation priorities
Those who advise you legally and financially need to understand your desire to protect your land. Without this knowledge, they may recommend options that later conflict with your land protection options. With this knowledge, they may help you discover tax benefits or financial advantages to certain land protection methods.
Trusts vs. protection
Sometimes land is placed with other assets into irrevocable trusts that guarantee lifetime income (such as charitable remainder trusts). If protecting your land’s natural resources is your primary goal, you’ll want to consider this cautiously.
As some conservation-minded landowners have learned too late, these trusts are required to return maximum value for the beneficiary — so it may be impossible to later add permanent land protections that reduce value. Even if you intend that a conservation group receive the land from the trust upon your death, the trustee might be forced to sell your land in order to provide your income payments during your lifetime.
Estate planning can be a safety net for your land
If you’re concerned about your land’s future, but you want time to determine just how you’d like to protect it, a simple bequest of land to a conservation organization can provide peace of mind — allowing you to take your time without worry as you consider other techniques that would supersede the bequest during your lifetime.
A contingency bequest of land can also give peace of mind — just in case the heir you’ve chosen to care for your land is unable to accept the gift or predeceases you unexpectedly.
For example, a number of landowners have named INHF as primary or contingent beneficiary for their land, trusting us to “figure out” the best protection for their land if or when the time comes.
Do you know your children’s wishes for the land?
Some people assume they will bequeath land to their children, and that the children will care for it much as they themselves have done. Experience shows it’s best not to assume. Some heirs may consider land ownership and its stewardship responsibilities to be more a burden than a blessing. And it’s fair to ask children what they would do with the land if they owned it. It suits some families better all around to accomplish land protection and estate planning in a way that helps you shift other assets to your children's legacy.
Bequests of land: Talk it through
Some people prefer not to reveal to beneficiaries that they are included in the will. While surprise can be a wise strategy in some situations, permanent land protection is generally not one of them.
Many conservation groups have horror stories about bequests they received with no advance warning or discussion. In some cases, their staff, the deceased’s lawyer and descendants struggled to clarify vague bequest instructions like “use my land for conservation.” In other cases, intended recipients had to reject a surprise bequest because the gift didn’t fit their mission or because there were so many restrictions and management costs that they could not meet the donor’s expectations.
To avoid such problems, talk with your chosen conservation organization or agency before bequeathing land to them. This way, you’ll have time to clarify goals, revise the will’s language and/or choose another beneficiary.