What is conservation-based estate planning?

An estate is the total of all of one’s assets, which may include a person’s land, house, bank accounts, stocks, and bonds. An estate plan ensures that a person’s assets are distributed in a way that will meet the financial and personal needs of the person and his or her heirs. An estate plan is best thought of as a combination of documents (such as a will or a trust) and tools (such as a conservation easement or a current use tax program) that achieve a person’s goals when they are implemented together.

Conservation-based estate planning comprises those parts of an estate plan that help maintain some or all of a property in its natural, undeveloped state. Conservation-based estate planning includes many of the same tools as standard estate planning (wills, trusts, limited liability companies), plus additional tools that help landowners keep the land undeveloped (current use tax programs, conservation easements). The tools of conservation-based estate planning should be thought of as an à la carte menu from which landowners choose to adopt the combination of tools that best meets their needs. The goal of conservation-based estate planning is to reach landowner goals while keeping as much of the property undeveloped and in as big a parcel as possible. This will maintain the many benefits the land provides and allow options for the future.

When it comes to conservation-based estate planning, there are two important decisions that every landowner must make:

1. Do I want to determine who will own the land when I am gone?

Based on our survey, 64% of landowners report that it is very or extremely important for them to designate the future owner. Learn more about ownership options here.

2. Do I want to determine how the land will be used in the future, when I no longer own it?

Based on our survey, 45% of landowners report that it is very or extremely important for them to designate the future use of the land. Learn more about tools to determine future use of the land here.

Combinations of these tools can be used to meet the unique personal and financial goals of each landowner.

A conservation easement is not going to meet every family’s needs. In fact, only 7% of landowners responding to our survey report having a conservation easement on their land. Even if landowners are interested in permanent conservation, their land may not be in an area of high ecological value or in an organization’s focus area. Since everyone is working with limited time, energy, and resources, it is advisable to match conservation-based estate planning tools with the property’s landscape context.