Maybe it's a wooded area you played in as a child, where you later built your home. Maybe it's farmland that has been in your family for generations. Perhaps it's a property you bought as a place to relax and enjoy nature.
Have you ever been concerned that the beauty and natural features of your land might not always be there? With a conservation easement, you can rest assured that the qualities you treasure about your property will remain for you - and future generations - to enjoy.
What is a Conservation Easement?
A conservation easement is a way you can protect the environmental value of your land while continuing to own it. It is a legal agreement between a landowner and a nonprofit conservation group or public agency that limits use of the land to ensure that the owner's conservation goals for the property are upheld.
A conservation easement can guarantee that the trees on your land won't be cut down, for instance, or that the property will remain farmland.
Even if you sell your land or pass it on to your heirs, a conservation easement will protect it from losing the natural character that makes it so special.
What are the Benefits of a Conservation Easement?
Personal Satisfaction - Knowing that the beauty of your land will be intact for future generations and that your property will continue to promote a healthy environment.
Ownership Retention - When you grant a conservation easement on your property, you remain the landowner.
Flexibility - Conservation easements are designed to meet the needs and wishes of the landowners who grant them, while serving the public good by preserving natural resources. If you want to allow public access (or limit it) you can do so, depending on the type of easement you grant. If you want to continue to live in your home or use other structures on the property, the easement can accommodate. Perhaps you want to add a building or allow limited development; this can also be written into the agreement.
Income Tax Deduction - The Internal Revenue Service allows for conservation easements to qualify as tax-deductible charitable gifts, provided they meet certain conservation criteria. The value of the gift is the difference between the land's value with a conservation easement and its value without the easement.
Estate Tax Reduction - You can protect your heirs from facing exorbitant estate taxes (and the possible need to sell your land to pay those taxes) by granting a conservation easement. Since estate taxes are based on the fair market value of a property, and an easement restricting development generally lowers the fair market value, your heirs will pay less estate taxes. You can even grant a conservation easement in your will, with the same results.
Property Tax Reduction - When you grant a qualified conservation easement in Illinois, you can receive a 75% reduction in the assessed valuation of your property. To qualify, your land must meet at least one of the following criteria:
- Preserve habitat for endangered or threatened species;
- Contribute to the ecological viability of another park or natural area that is publicly owned or otherwise protected;
- Provide for public access for recreation or outdoor education;
- Be identified in the Illinois Natural Areas Inventory;
- Be eligible for the Illinois Natural Areas Registry; and/or
- Be part of a local, state, or federal policy or plan to conserve wildlife habitat or open space, restore or protect lakes and streams, or protect scenic areas.
These are similar to the IRS's criteria qualifying conservation easements as charitable contributions. See Internal Revenue Code Section 170(h) for details. For information about applying for a property tax reduction, call the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Division of Natural Heritage, at 217.785.8774.
Granting a conservation easement is a rewarding and exciting way to leave a legacy of land for future generations. It is also an intricate process. If you are interested in exploring your preservation options, be sure to:
- Contact your local conservation group or forest preserve district to learn about the opportunities available.
- Consult with your attorney and accountant.
- Expect the process of establishing an easement to last roughly four to six months.
For more information on Conservation Easements in northeastern Illinois, please contact:
The Conservation Foundation
10 S. 404 Knoch Knolls Road
Naperville, Illinois 60565
25 E. Washington Street, Suite 1650
Chicago, Illinois 60602-1708
To determine if a portion or all of your property in Will County would be suitable for the dedication of a Conservation Easement to the Forest Preserve District, please send the PIN (tax number), acreage, and portion of the property that you are considering placing an Easement on (i.e., the northernmost two acres of the four-acre parcel, or the northernmost 250 feet of the parcel), together with your name and mailing address, fax number, or e-mail address (whichever you prefer) to:
Forest Preserve District of Will County
17540 W. Laraway Road
Joliet, Illinois 60433
Content adapted from "Conservation Easements - A Legacy of Land," a publication created by The Conservation Foundation, Openlands, McHenry County Conservation District, and the Forest Preserve Districts of DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, and Will Counties