If I donate a conservation easement, do I still own the land?

Absolutely. You retain what is called the fee interest in the property. As such, you can continue to live on it, sell it, mortgage it, pass it on to your heirs, etc.

Do I have to give access to the public?

Only if you choose to. Most of our easements do not involve public access, although some allow hiking, riding or other activities, as approved by the landowner.

So what am I giving up?

Most commonly, a conservation easement is essentially a commitment to preserve open space on your property. Thus, as outlined in the easement, you are donating some, or all of, the development rights on your land.

Is a conservation easement permanent?

Yes. The conservation easement document, which is essentially a legal deed restriction filed at the county, states that the agreement is perpetual and thus the protections afforded through the easement last forever.

What sort of tax savings are involved?

Conservation easement donors generally qualify for a federal income tax deduction. The amount is based on the value of the development rights you are giving up as determined by an independent, qualified appraiser, and your tax bracket. You should consult a qualified tax advisor regarding your particular circumstances.

Will my property taxes go down?

Probably not. Unlike a number of other states, New York does not require assessors to recognize conservation easements restricting development on property when preparing assessments. But New York State has recently passed legislation that will grant a direct credit on your state income tax return, up to $5,000, for land that is protected through conservation easements. Implementing regulations still need to be drafted, but most landowners filing NYS tax returns should benefit in some manner from this tax credit.

What will the affect be on my estate taxes?

Easements can significantly lower the taxable value of land in an estate. The easement can be given during the owner’s lifetime, in the owner’s will, or in many cases, up to nine months after the owner’s death.

How much does it cost to create an easement?

You must pay a qualified appraiser (and possibly an engineer) to establish the tax value of your gift. These costs generally run between $4,000 and $7,000; the Land Trust can provide you with the names of qualified appraisers to assist you. The Land Trust also requests a stewardship gift of $8,200 - 10,000 (also tax deductible) to cover our own costs and ensure that the easement will be monitored in perpetuity. Overall, costs may be a small fraction of the federal income tax deduction.

What does Hudson Highlands Land Trust do?

With the expertise we have gained in accepting more than 86 easements, the Land Trust staff is available to discuss a variety of land conservation options. We will prepare the written easement and other needed documentation, and help the landowner with any other resources needed to complete the donation.

How long does it take to do an easement?

Depending upon the complexity of the agreement, it may take several months. The easement itself can be drafted in far less time, once the area to be protected and the conditions have been agreed to by both the Land Trust and landowner. The Land Trust Board of Directors then undertakes a three-level review process to ensure the conservation easement furthers our mission, as well as meets all federal IRS and New York State regulatory and legal requirements. It’s best to start no later than the early Fall if you want to complete an easement by the end of the year.

Do I need to go before my town planning board?

Unless there is a requirement for subdivision of the property in your plans, involvement of the planning board is generally not necessary. This is the case in the vast majority of the easements we have been involved with.

Can I preserve my land if I live in a city or village?

As long as a conservation value (wildlife habitat, open space resulting in significant public benefit, historical character, watershed protection, or recreation characteristics) is protected and can be documented by the Land Trust, easements can be in rural, suburban or urban areas throughout the Hudson Highlands. The Land Trust can help you identify the conservation values on your land, and make a preliminary determination as to whether a “significant public benefit,” as required by the IRS, is achieved through the easement donation.

What is the Land Trust’s role after the easement is in place?

Land Trust staff will visit the land at least once a year to ensure the land continues to be preserved according to the terms of the easement. Many landowners use that visit to learn more about how they can make their land more beautiful or conservation-friendly.

How do I get started?

If you’d like to talk about easements or have us visit your property, call or email the Hudson Highlands Land Trust.