Individuals who are large landowners often face challenges in planning their estates. The land may have a value that causes the estate to exceed the federal estate tax exclusion limit. Currently the limit is $5,450,000 per person. In many cases, the landowner may not want the land to be sold to cover estate taxes, but would rather see the land continue to be used as a farm, ranch, or preserved for its natural beauty. The landowner may want to consider a conservation easement.
A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement that benefits landowners and the public, as it protects land while leaving it in private ownership. The uses of the property are then limited to those uses that are consistent with the landowner’s and the conservation easement holder’s objectives. Conservation easements are individually tailored, but in general they benefit landowners by protecting the features of the property they wish to preserve. They potentially receive significant tax relief, and they maintain ownership of the land. The land provides public benefits by conserving open lands, farms, forests, and other natural resources.
The tax benefit to the landowner is realized at the time the conservation easement is placed on the land. The landowner basically sells the right to develop the land to a land trust. The value of the land for property tax purposes becomes the much lower highest and best use in conservation value. The conservation easement rides with the deed of the land, therefore the intent of the original owner for the use of the land is protected in perpetuity.
For our clients in southeastern North Carolina, the offices of Sandhills Area Land Trust (SALT) are located on Southwest Broad Street in Southern Pines, next door to Parsec’s Southern Pines office. They are a community-based, 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that works to preserve and protect land and its environs in Moore, Richmond, Scotland, Hoke, Cumberland, and Harnett counties.
SALT was founded in 1991. Since that time, it has worked with private landowners to negotiate conservation easements on their property, and more than 13,000 acres of working farms, water supplies, endangered ecosystems, and urban-space have been permanently protected. The North Carolina Sandhills is a region of rolling hills with sandy soil located between the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain. This area is home to the largest contiguous stands of long leaf pine forest in North Carolina, and many wetlands and dozens of rare plants and animals, which all need to be protected. With this goal in mind, SALT cultivates partnerships among landowners, local businesses and government agencies.
If you have any questions pertaining to the use of land conservation easements in your estate planning process, please contact your Parsec Financial Advisor.
Wendy S. Beaver, AAMS®