If you want to entrust your land to a conservation group eventually, but want to keep it throughout your lifetime, a bequest to a conservation entity might be right for you.
This option has few tax benefits, but offers you maximum flexibility and peace of mind.
What type of land?
If your land has high-quality natural resources that you want protected beyond your lifetime, consider bequeathing it to a conservation group.
Even if your land has little or no natural resource value — such as cropland or a commercial lot — you can bequeath it to a like-minded conservation group. They can use its sale proceeds or annual income to fund other conservation efforts.
- Ease. It’s a straightforward process — simply include the land bequest and recipient in your will or estate documents.
- Control. A bequest enables you to decide what will happen to your land. If you die without a will, state law determines how your assets will be disbursed.
- Use and income. The bequest does not affect your use of the land during your lifetime. The land is still completely yours, and the joys and responsibilities of land ownership are still yours. Any income the land provides will still come to you.
- Flexibility. A bequest can be changed if you later need an asset to cover personal expenses or if you’d like to choose a different beneficiary.
Legal and tax benefits
- Your bequest may reduce future estate and inheritance taxes.
- Bequests do not qualify for income tax savings available through several other options.
Some landowners use the bequest as a first step toward land protection. During the time that the landowner is considering other land protection options or waiting for them to be completed, they have peace of mind knowing that the land will be in good hands if anything should happen to them suddenly. This “safety net” trusts the beneficiary to tend to the land protection, in case the landowner is unable to complete it.
Talk with your beneficiary
Though the paperwork is simple and can be done without the beneficiaries’ knowledge, always discuss land bequests and restrictions with potential conservation beneficiaries in advance.
Here are some key issues to clarify with your conservation partner:
- Bequeathing land “for conservation” can mean different things for different land and different people — from selling the land and using the proceeds for other conservation projects to preserving and managing the land according to very specific guidelines. Talk with your intended conservation recipient — perhaps even walk your land together — to make sure this partner understands and can fulfill your goals.
- Unlike a cash bequest, land gifts can place significant responsibilities and costs on the recipient — especially if the land has no income-producing potential and comes with restrictions on its use, management or future sale. In such cases, consider a bequest of funds to ensure that your conservation partner can manage the property as you intend.
- Contingency bequest: It’s always good to have a “Plan B” in your estate plans regarding land you want to protect. Perhaps you’re leaving your land to a trusted, conservation-minded heir. But just in case that heir pre-deceases you, add your “second choice” of a conservation heir: another individual, or a conservation agency or nonprofit.