A donation of land to a conservation agency is the simplest way to protect your land. By transferring title to the agency, not only are you providing long-term protection to the land, you also receive tax benefits in the form of income tax deductions, prossible estate tax benefits, and relief from property taxes.
In an outright donation, full title and ownership to the land is given at any time you choose while you are living. This offers the maximum tax advantages, because you may take a charitable gift deduction based on the full fair market value of your property.
As discussed under conservation easements, you should have a qualified appraiser determine the value of the gift of your land. The same conditions apply in terms of income tax reductions. You would no longer pay property taxes on the donated land, and estate taxes for this land would be eliminated.
Under some circumstances, you may wish to donate your land, but not give up use of it immediately. In this case, two options are available: donation by devise, or donation with reserved life estate.
Donation by Devise
A gift of land through your will is a donation by devise. You retain full use and control over your land while you are alive, and ensure its protection after you are gone. You do not receive an income tax deduction for this technique. However, your estate taxes are reduced, and your heirs may benefit through reduced inheritance taxes.
Donation with Reserved Life Estate
The reserved life estate option provides for your donation of the land now, to a conservation agency. You would retain use of all or part of the donated land during your lifetime, or the lifetime of designated immediate family members. The value of your donation for tax purposes is based on the fair market value of the property, less the estimated value of your life interest in the property, according to IRS tables based on your age and life expectancy. The tax advantages are less than with an outright donation, but greater than with a donation by devise.