How to Protect Your Land
There are 2 ways to partner with SWMLC to permanently conserve your property:
1. Create a public nature preserve
Donate your land outright to Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy to create a nature preserve that is owned and managed by SWMLC and open to the public as resources allow.
2. Create a conservation easement
Donate a conservation easement to Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy. With this option, the property remains in private ownership and is not open to the public, but it is conserved by a legal document attached to the deed of the property and runs with the property in perpetuity. In rare cases, SWMLC has funds available to purchase land or conservation easements through grants or private donations.
10 Steps to Donating Land or a Conservation Easement
If you are interested in donating land or a conservation easement to Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy, here are the steps:
1. A member of SWMLC’s land protection staff visits the property and tours it with the land owner.
2. SWMLC staff and the land owner meet to review and discuss the proposed project, and to consider any alternatives.
3. If a conservation easement is being considered, SWMLC will draft the easement language.
4. SWMLC’s land protection team and board of directors must approve the draft.
5. A title search is conducted.
6. An appraisal is obtained.
7. For conservation easements, a mortgage subordination is created, if needed.
8. A baseline documentation report is created for conservation easements.
9. The deed or easement is signed, notarized, and recorded.
10. IRS Form 8283 is completed.
This process usually takes about 6-12 months to complete. In many cases, the landowner and SWMLC have been communicating about conserving the land for multiple years before the landowner and SWMLC are ready to sign the legal documents and make it permanent.
Conserving the land forever is a big, life decision that neither the landowner nor SWMLC should rush into.
In addition, there are three other ways to protect your land:
Donate a Conservation Easement by Bequest
If you like the idea of a conservation easement but do not see the need to put restrictions on your property in your lifetime, you can work with the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy to have a conservation easement attached to your will or trust. The conservation easement bequest can be written as a provision in your will or as an amendment to your will to instruct your estate’s executor to convey the conservation easement to the Land Conservancy. A living trust could also achieve the same result and avoid the probate process.
The income tax and property tax advantages of a conservation easement cannot be utilized through a bequest. However, the donation may reduce the donor’s taxable estate and therefore reduce estate taxes.
Donate a Property with a Reserved Life Estate
You can also donate a property — but continue to live on it — by donating a remainder interest in the property and retaining a reserved life estate. You donate the property during your lifetime but reserve the right for yourself and other named persons to continue to live on it. When those whom you have specified die or release their interests, SWMLC gains full title to the property.
When retaining a reserved life estate, you will be required to continue to pay property taxes, but the donation may qualify for an income tax deduction. The main advantage of donating a property with a reserved life estate is that it allows you and your loved ones to live on the land and enjoy it but, because the deed is transferred during your lifetime, you gain assurance that SWMLC will protect your land after you’re gone.
Make a Bargain Sale of a Conservation Easement or Property
SWMLC has been very successful in obtaining grants for land protection and restoration. Currently we are partnered in one North American Wetland Conservation Act (NAWCA) grant and two Michigan Department of Environmental Quality 319 Watershed grants to obtain funds for land protection. In most cases, landowners and SWMLC write commitment letters that are submitted with the grant application. The funds, if received, are allocated to the landowners. In rare cases, there are grant funds left over to conserve particular types of properties within specific geographical areas.
SWMLC has conducted fundraising campaigns to purchase properties that are rich in conservation value and meaningful to people.