What is Land Trust: How Does it Work & Its Examples


Key Takeaway:

  • A Land Trust is a legal tool for land conservation that allows private landowners to protect their land from development while still retaining ownership and control over it.
  • Land Trusts work by transferring the title of the land to a nonprofit organization or government agency which holds it in perpetuity. The landowner retains certain rights, including the right to use and enjoy the land, but agrees not to develop it and to abide by certain conservation principles.
  • There are three main types of Land Trusts: Conservation Land Trusts, which focus on preserving natural habitats and ecosystems; Revocable Land Trusts, which give landowners more flexibility by allowing them to retain control of the land during their lifetime; and Irrevocable Land Trusts, which provide more permanent protection by permanently transferring ownership to the Land Trust organization.

  • Examples of Land Trusts include The Nature Conservancy, which has conserved over 119 million acres of land worldwide, and local Land Trust organizations such as the Boston Natural Areas Network and the Land Trust Alliance of British Columbia.
  • Are you considering land conservation options? Land trusts provide an effective way to protect and preserve land. Learn more about land trusts and how they can be used to benefit you, your community, and the environment.

    What is a Land Trust?

    A Land Trust is a legal agreement in which a property owner transfers the ownership of a property to a trust. The trust is responsible for holding and managing the property for a specific purpose, such as conservation, preservation, or providing affordable housing. Land Trusts are often used to protect land from development and ensure that it remains in its natural state or serve as a community resource. Through a Land Trust, the property owner can donate or sell land while still maintaining some control over it, including the right to use, develop, and sell it in the future under certain conditions.

    Land trusts come in different types, such as public or private, and may focus on specific areas or properties, such as farmland, urban spaces, or wilderness areas. The primary goal of a land trust is to preserve and protect natural resources while maximizing the benefits of land use for community members.

    One unique aspect of a Land Trust is the ability to transfer ownership to future generations without taxes and fees that would typically accompany a traditional sale. A Land Trust can also provide significant tax benefits for the donor. Furthermore, Land Trusts can facilitate partnerships between individuals, businesses, and government entities to strengthen conservation efforts.

    In a real-life example, the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y) spearheaded a partnership between various land trusts and government entities to protect wildlife migration paths in North America. This collaboration has resulted in the conservation of millions of acres of land and the protection of wildlife corridors for future generations. Land trusts can be a powerful tool for conservation efforts and community resource management.

    How does a Land Trust work?

    Land Trusts operate by beneficiaries contributing land to an entity committed to its protection and preservation. They hold property titles, and beneficiaries can use land, but ownership is not transferred, thus safeguarding the property s future. This arrangement is popular with private land donors, who enjoy favorable tax treatment and fewer limitations.

    Land Trusts are governed by a trustee, and beneficiaries have no control over the protected land s sale or usage unless it threatens protection's primary objective. They don't require redistribution of property, which makes it easier for long-term conservation goals. Land Trusts protect historic sites, wildlife, and natural habitats and are essential for government entities and non-profits. However, establishing a successful Land Trust requires sophisticated legal and financial expertise.

    Moreover, the primary role of the trustee is monitoring and ensuring that the beneficiaries are not violating the conditions.  

    In Vermont, the Craftsbury Community Grill project shared land with a Land Trust to establish an eatery using local farming products. The arrangement allowed the community to enjoy locally sourced food without owning or worrying about the land's future.

    Types of Land Trusts

    Types of land trusts are here to help you! Conservation, revocable, and irrevocable trusts--all have a purpose. Let's get to know them. Learn about the different types and how they work. This section will give you an overview.

    Conservation Land Trusts

    One type of trust that landowners use to conserve their property is commonly referred to as "preservation trusts". These trusts are created to preserve the natural and cultural features of the property. They often work with communities and government agencies to ensure the protection of biodiversity, water systems, and historic sites. Through a "conservation easement," landowners can limit development rights while retaining ownership. This helps assure permanent conservation values of the property.

    One example is The Nature Conservancy's "Working Woodlands", which serves forest owners from Minnesota to Maine, particularly those whose properties have big trees, clean water, special wildlife habitat or other special qualities worth protecting.

    Another important consideration for landowners when setting up a preservation trust is ensuring long-term monitoring of land management practices and changing environmental needs.

    Revocable land trusts - because who doesn't love the option to change their mind about protecting their property?

    Revocable Land Trusts

    A type of land trust that can be altered or canceled anytime by the grantor is sometimes referred to as a flexible land trust. The revocable land trust is a legal agreement between the owner and a trustee that enables the grantor to maintain control over any assets placed in this trust. During their lifetime, the asset owner serves as both the beneficiary and an executor of the revocable trust. This type of land trust does not protect against estate taxes but provides excellent flexibility for estate planning purposes.

    It's worth noting that when exploring types of land trusts, many individuals employ revocable trusts more often because they will allow them to maintain total control over their possessions until such time as they pass away or become incapacitated. Once transferred into a revocable living trust, properties can be re-transferred, purchased, or sold without facing important governmental red tape problems that create unnecessary expenses or delays.

    While Revocable Living Trusts do have some limitations when it comes to asset protection since the granter retains partial control over them, they are still highly useful tools for estate planning.

    Revocable Land Trusts gained popularity in America during the 1960s and had been used ever since by people looking for an efficient approach toward preserving other's interests over property ownership while retaining control over its administration within set guidelines.

    Once you've given your land to an irrevocable land trust, it's like breaking up with your ex and realizing you forgot to get your favorite sweater back.

    Irrevocable Land Trusts

    One of the types of land trusts is an irreversible legal agreement that helps property owners preserve their land. Once the trust is formed, it cannot be revoked or modified without approval from the beneficiaries or with court intervention. Irrevocable Land Trusts offer benefits such as estate planning, conservation easements, and tax savings while maintaining control over the property. Beneficiaries can inherit properties without going through probate, and the assets are shielded from creditors and lawsuits.

    These trusts require drafting specific provisions with detailed guidance to ensure the language best serves its intended purpose. Property owners should take time to choose trustworthy trustees for long-term management of their assets under wise and prudent investments. The trustee's role is to manage the land parcels included in the trust, preserve natural resources on it, utilize its agricultural potential if applicable, and comply with legal requirements.

    Irrevocable Land Trusts have provisions that allow families to hold closely held businesses property lines in perpetuity. Through this provision, family members have an opportunity to continue ownership rights while protecting these rights legally in case of untimely death.

    A recent survey by American Farmland Trust indicates about 85% of farmlands belong to those aged 55 years old and above1. Land Trusts help such farmers transfer their lands  conservation values leading to significant tax reductions while preserving a piece of farmland forever.

    Examples of Land Trusts

    Examples of Trust for Land Preservation

    Trusts for land preservation have been established for different purposes, including conservation of natural resources, protection of biodiversity and historical landmarks, and public access to land. Here are five different examples of land trusts:

    • The Nature Conservancy - protects land and water resources across the US and more than 30 other countries.
    • The Trust for Public Land - works to create parks and other protected lands in urban and suburban areas across the US.
    • The National Park Trust - purchases land for national parks and works to protect historical sites and cultural landmarks.
    • Agricultural Land Trusts - protect farmland from development, keeping it available for agricultural use in perpetuity.
    • Private Family Land Trusts - established to protect privately owned land from development and to maintain the family legacy.

    Land trusts have specific features and operations that differ depending on the type of trust. For instance, conservation trusts will usually acquire land or easements to protect natural resources. In contrast, Farmland trusts usually operate by purchasing development rights from landowners, enabling them to continue farming the land while protecting it from development.

    A pro-tip for creating a land trust: Before establishing a trust, it is essential to consult with a land planner or an attorney who specializes in trust law to evaluate the unique circumstances involved in the property.

    Five Facts About Land Trust: What It Is, How It Works, Types, and Examples:

    • ✅ A land trust is a legal agreement that allows a property owner to transfer the title of the property to a trustee, who has legal ownership and management responsibilities without transferring the benefits of ownership. (Source: The Balance)
    • ✅ Land trusts are used to protect and conserve land, as well as to provide tax benefits and estate planning advantages. (Source: National Wildlife Federation)
    • ✅ There are two main types of land trust: conservation land trusts and non-conservation land trusts. (Source: American Farmland Trust)
    • ✅ Examples of land trusts include The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, and The Conservation Fund. (Source: Forbes)
    • ✅ Land trusts have been successful in protecting millions of acres of land and wildlife habitat, ensuring that future generations will have access to open space and natural resources. (Source: Land Trust Alliance)

    FAQs about Land Trust: What It Is, How It Works, Types, And Examples

    What is a land trust?

    A land trust is a legal arrangement that allows a nonprofit organization to own and protect land from development or harm. The landowner can transfer the title of their property to the trust, which then ensures that it will be preserved for future generations.  

    How does a land trust work?

    A land trust works by accepting the ownership of a piece of land with the intention of preserving it. The land trust will then manage the property, ensuring that it is protected and cared for according to the terms of the agreement with the landowner.  

    What are the types of land trusts?

    There are several types of land trusts, including conservation land trusts, agricultural land trusts, community land trusts, and even housing land trusts. Each type of land trust serves a specific purpose related to land conservation and protection.  

    What are some examples of land trusts?

    Examples of land trusts include The Nature Conservancy, which focuses on preserving natural areas and wildlife habitats, and the American Farmland Trust, which is committed to preserving farmland and supporting sustainable agriculture. Community land trusts, such as the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative in Boston, work to provide affordable housing and community development.  

    How can I set up a land trust?

    To set up a land trust, you will need to form a nonprofit organization and create legal documents, including a conservation easement or deed restriction that outlines the purpose and terms of the land trust. You will also need to work with an attorney and a land trust specialist to ensure that everything is done properly.  

    How can I donate land to a land trust?

    To donate land to a land trust, you will need to contact the trust directly and work with them to establish the terms of the donation. The land trust will then evaluate your property and determine if it meets their criteria for conservation or protection. Donating land to a land trust can have tax benefits and can be a great way to ensure that your property is protected for future generations.