Earth Day Estate Planning, Part 2

estate planning wills trusts environmentWelcome to Part 2 of my week-long series concerning estate planning with the Earth in mind. You are probably familiar with  land development in your area that is happening at a breakneck pace. We all know of favorite fields plowed under for a new housing development or shopping center. One way to help the natural world is to leave your land in a conservation restriction as a part of your estate planning.

When you use a will or trust, you are leaving your assets, including your property, to individuals or organizations. When you draft your estate plan, you can include a conservation restriction – called a conservation easement in other states – to protect your property from development. A conservation restriction is a legal document between a property owner and a conservation organization. That organization agrees to monitor the property and enforce the restriction, even if the property changes hands. The property owner can place a restriction that prohibits any development or can state exactly what kind of development is allowed. For example, a property owner could place a conservation restriction on a 50-acre farm and allow one more home to be built on the property but no other buildings. Conservation restrictions can be tailored to meet the property owner’s wishes, and it’s better if they explicitly list what the owner allows and what the owner prohibits to be done to the property. It is considered a deed restriction and goes with the deed to the land, meaning it applies to anyone who purchases the land.

If you want to place a conservation restriction on your property in your will or trust, it is a good idea to check with some conservation organizations to make sure they will accept your property into their land trust program. If you find one or several that will do so, you can even include their names – or name the one you prefer – in your will or trust so the representative or trustee knows who to contact when the time comes to place the restriction. You can even attach a draft of the conservation restriction to your will or trust so that your wishes are clearly articulated.

While it is best to think of these issues before death, a representative or trustee can place a conservation restriction on property after the death of the property owner. It needs to be done quickly, before the federal estate tax is filed, which is usually nine months after death.

Contact me if you want to learn more about conservation restrictions and your estate plan.