If you want to preserve land indefinitely, donation of a conservation easement is like a free lunch. You get assurance of future preservation and a charitable deduction.
Sometimes the greatest charity of all is simply doing nothing. At least that may be the case when it comes to being charitable with the land you own. Why? Because the charity consists in preserving the land from development instead of capitalizing on its highest and best economic use.
Enter the conservation easement.
The perennial problem with easements, however, is the question of valuation of the “potential value” of the land.
The entire point behind an easement is that the land itself (or the façade, as the case may be with urban-dwellers) has intrinsic value worth saving. This can be hard to put into concrete numbers. But then again, there always remains the risk that certain persons may look to maximize the charitable deduction for an easement through creative valuation.
This theme was picked up in a recent Forbes article titled “Conservation Easement No Deduction For Hypothetical Vineyard.” The lesson is less outlandish than the title suggests – not every problem comes from supposing the remote possibility of a vineyard, a stadium, or a skyscraper. Rather, when asking for the easement you need to settle upon one out of every possible use of the land and the IRS has to agree that potential use is the best and most likely use.
The IRS has a presumption against any big dreams, you might say, and that can be difficult to overcome.
Proper valuation is a key component of any purchase, gift, or act of charity. When it comes to easements, however, the subject of valuation may be more difficult to capture accurately.
Placing an effective easement means building a case and an effective understanding of the true potential to any land given.
Reference: Forbes (June 5, 2013) “Conservation Easement No Deduction For Hypothetical Vineyard”