A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and the Leelanau Conservancy that permanently limits a property’s uses in order to protect its conservation values. These agreements are not a new concept in property law, as similar agreements have been in force all across the United States since the late 1800’s. However, conservation easements were a rarity in Michigan before 1990. They are not a rarity any longer, and the Leelanau Conservancy has received over 157 conservation easements since its founding in 1988.
If you own land with important natural resources, voluntarily donating a conservation easement can be one of the smartest ways to conserve land you love while maintaining your private property rights and realizing significant federal tax benefits. Considering the donation of a conservation easement can be a very important part of a comprehensive family estate plan, avoiding potentially contentious disputes among children or other heirs. Because a conservation easement conveys the value of development rights to a charitable organization, donors may qualify for a variety of income, property, and estate tax benefits.
In 2016 Congress made the income tax incentives for donations of conservation easement permanent. The Land Trust Alliance or LTA has a brochure outlining these changes. Tax incentive brochure (2016)