Your first step is to determine how you would like to protect your land. You can either transfer your ownership entirely, or retain your ownership but agree to foregoe some of the rights of ownership for conservation ends.
This page contains information about possible arrangements for land conservation. Not all land trusts use all the tools described here. Before deciding which option is right for you, it's important to introduce yourself and your property to your local land trust to make sure that your goals align with their mission, programs and resources.
Donate your land
Land is one of the most tangible legacies an individual can leave. Landowners who donate land become a part of the larger effort to protect and manage a community’s natural heritage.
Before donating land, consult your local land trust to see if it is able to accept the donation—that is, if the land fits its mission and resources.
Benefits of donating land
The process is simple.
You will not be responsible for managing the land.
You may receive substantial income tax deductions and estate tax benefits.
If the land has conservation value, it will be permanently protected.
For more about the tax benefits of working with a land trust, download our fact sheets.
Many people who donate land have an interest in how the land trust protects its specific conservation values. It’s important to discuss your wishes with your land trust and seek agreement on the goals for the land. These goals should be outlined in a documented agreement covering the land trust’s ownership and stewardship of the property.
What if my land does not have much or any conservation value?
Land trusts sometimes accept donated land with little or no conservation value, planning to sell the property and use the proceeds to support conservation efforts. This is often referred to as donating "trade land."
Sell your land
If your property has significant conservation values or closely aligns with the mission and goals of your local land trust, the land trust may be willing and able to purchase the property outright. However, land trusts often must fundraise in order to purchase particularly important pieces of land.
Land trusts have access to a few public funding sources that can help them meet purchase prices for important land. In Wisconsin, the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program provides money to local governments and nonprofit organizations to help them purchase land with important conservation value.
There are a handful of other state and federal grants to fund acquisitions of conservation lands. Your land trust will know if your property may be a candidate for those public resources.
Reserved life estate
If you would like to continue to live on the land or use the property once you’ve transferred the deed, the method called reserved life estate may be the best option for you.
A reserved life estate allows you (the original landowner), or another person whom you designate, to continue to enjoy the land for the rest of your lives. Upon your death or another specified time, your remainder interest in the property transfers to the land trust.
The best source of information about reserved life estates is a knowledgeable attorney. One with conservation and estate planning experience can guide your family through the mechanics of such a gift and the potential associated tax incentives.
Bequest in Will
A bequest is also called a “donation by devise” and transfers ownership of property or an easement to a land trust through your will. This is a great choice if financial compensation is not a necessity and you want to maintain the current use of your land.
In addition, this option can have some estate tax benefits. If the land or an easement represents a significant percentage of your estate’s value, then your estate will be devalued for federal estate tax purposes. For some families, that has made the difference between keeping property and having to sell it to pay estate taxes.
Please visit the page specifically about conservation easements for more information.
Registry: A non-permanent commitment
Registering land is a good option if you would like to protect your land’s natural value, but are not ready to protect it permanently.
When you register your land with a land trust, you are making a clear commitment to protect the natural elements, features, and characteristics of the property while you own it, and promise to notify the land trust before you plan to sell or transfer the property, or if of any threats to the land arise.
You also have the option to grant formal rights of first refusal to a land trust.
Not every land trust has a registry program, so it is important to check with your local land trust before deciding upon this option.
Farmland Preservation -- Purchase of Development Rights
Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) programs have become a popular tool for protecting working landscapes, such as farmland, from development. In Wisconsin, there is state funding in the Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement (or PACE) program to help local governments and land trusts buy conservation easements on working farms.
PDR or PACE easements are conservation easements designed specifically to keep quality working lands available for viable farming.
For more information about lasting, voluntary farmland preservation and PDR and PACE programs in Wisconsin, visit www.wisconsinfarmland.org.