Myth 1: I can deduct the full value of my easement from my income taxes.
Fact: You can deduct only within certain limits. If the donor’s current taxable income is low (as is often the case for retirees, for example), the donor’s income tax benefits will be correspondingly low.
Myth 2: I can avoid property taxes by placing a conservation easement on my property.
Fact: Because you remain the property owner, you remain liable for property taxes. In Montana, those taxes are based on the current use of the land. As long as the use of the land remains constant, the assessment of the land for tax purposes will remain constant. This is not the case in some other states, where property taxes may be based on the market value of the land, and therefore may be affected by donation of an easement.
Myth 3: An easement opens the donor’s land to the public.
Fact: An easement includes the right of reasonable access only to the holder of the easement, only to monitor the easement. Public access can be written into an easement, but only if the landowner desires it.
Myth 4: A conservation easement would prevent me from running cattle, cutting firewood, or logging.
Fact: Conservation easements usually preserve, rather than prevent, historic uses. Many land trusts permit selective timber harvest guided by timber management plans.
Myth 5: An easement would tie the hands of my heirs.
Fact: Although that is true, an easement will tie their hands far less than having to sell property to pay taxes! Landowners are encouraged to consult with their legal and financial advisors and to plan with their heirs to consider options such as reserving building sites which can be bequeathed as separate properties to future family members or sold for cash if the need arises.
Myth 6: Conservation easements are just tax dodges for the wealthy.
Fact: Conservation easements are not merely “tax loopholes,” but provide an incentive to assist in reaching societal goals. They are a fair trade of property rights for conservation in perpetuity. And their greatest value is not to the rich, but to land-rich, cash-poor families who wish to maintain a family heritage.