The Georgia-Alabama Land Trust, Inc. Standards and Practices
In January 2005, the Land Trust adopted the Land Trust Alliance’s revised 2004 Standards and Practices. These Standards and Practices ensure that the Land Trust operates fairly and has a clear and established mission that serves the public interest. The revised Standards and Practices uphold high ethical standards in operating and governing its mission. As part of our compliance with the Land Trust Alliance’s Standards and Practices, combined with our own procedures, we provide landowners with the information set forth below.
Conservation Easement Insights
– Legal/Tax Advice. We will not give legal, financial or tax advice and recommend that you obtain independent counsel in those areas prior to making an easement grant.
– Title. We require an investigation of title to ensure we are negotiating with the legal owner(s) and to uncover liens, mortgages, minerals or other leases, water rights and/or other encumbrances or matters of record that may affect the transaction. Mortgages, liens and other encumbrances that could result in extinguishment of the easement or significantly undermine the important conservation values on the property must be discharged or properly subordinated to the conservation easement.
– Baseline Documentation. We require a Baseline Documentation Report be prepared that includes a description of the current property condition, photos, topographical maps, land use map and other data as needed. The purpose of this report is to establish current and future property uses to establish criteria for future monitoring and enforcement of the conservation easement.
– Appraisal. We are required to notify those seeking to claim a federal or state income tax deduction, or state tax credit, that the project must meet the requirements of Internal Revenue Code (IRC) 170 and the accompanying Treasury Department regulations and/or any other federal or state requirements. You are responsible for any determination of the value.
If you are claiming a charitable deduction for federal income tax purposes, the IRC requires that you obtain a qualified appraisal prepared by a qualified appraiser if a gift of property is valued at more than $5,000. If the claimed deduction exceeds $500,000, you must include a copy of the full appraisal to your tax return.
There are extensive requirements placed on qualified appraisals and it is imperative that the easement grantor understand and have counsel on the form and content, and the preparer, of any appraisal used for tax purposes. A claim that is challenged and valuation denied or adjusted may depend on this, and once the land is encumbered in the process the easement cannot be undone. You should use a qualified appraiser who follows Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice and understands conservation easement appraisal principles such as: enhancement rules, contiguous property rules, conservation easement terms and development restrictions, and reasonable physical, legal, and financial feasibility analyses.
The IRS has shared on its website a conservation easement audit guide it uses for review of conservation easement deductions, and the Land Trust Alliance has information regarding appraisal requirements available on its website. Sometimes Donors ask us for a list of appraisers who indicate that they perform conservation easement-type appraisals. If we provide you with a list, we cannot vouch for the competence of those on the list or recommend an appraiser.
The Internal Revenue Service regulations require that an appraisal be dated no earlier than 60 days prior to the date of the Conservation Easement donation. An appraisal completed after the date of the easement recording should reflect the value of the Conservation Easement as of the time of the recording, and must be completed by the time the Donor files income taxes for the year of the donation.
The Land Trust must be provided a copy of a completed, qualified appraisal report that names the Land Trust, in addition to the Donor, as an intended user. We are required to review that appraisal and to not knowingly participate in the acceptance or substantiation of any donation where we have significant concerns about the donation, such as the appraised value of the conservation easement or the improper syndication of tax benefits resulting therefrom. In light of these obligations, as well as advisories from the Land Trust Alliance, the Land Trust may require supporting documentation and/or refuse to accept a donation or to sign a Form 8283 (see below) pursuant to Policy Letter 14, when it believes a donation has not been made, the appraisal is fraudulent, or the deduction will be improperly syndicated. In certain circumstances the Land Trust may also require additional supporting documentation, for example, a second appraisal if the appraised fair market value of the unencumbered fee interest exceeds five-times the cost-basis for a property acquired in the prior three years, before a determination can be made as to whether the Land Trust may accept the donation. Review of an appraisal by the Land Trust cannot be relied upon as validation of the appraisal for any purpose.
– Form 8283. IRS Form 8283 is used by the Donor to report information about non-cash charitable contributions such as gifts of land or qualified conservation contributions, including conservation easements. Form 8283 must be signed and dated by the appraiser and must be signed by the donee of the property. IRS regulations state that “. . . the signature of the donee [on Form 8283] does not represent concurrence in the appraised value of the contributed property. Rather it represents acknowledgement of receipt of the property described in the appraisal summary on the date specified in the appraisal summary, and that the donee understands the [additional] reporting requirements [for such gifts.].” Treas. Reg. 1.170A-13(c)(4)(iii). Current requirements for Form 8283 should be available on the IRS website; please review these as they may change from year to year. You should provide us a completed copy of form 8283 at least one week prior to your tax filing date to ensure we have time to review and get an authorized signature on the form.
We can only sign your Form 8283 if you have done the following:
1. Completed all information in Section B, Part 1, “Information on Donated Property”
2. Completed Part 3, “Declaration of Appraiser,” including the appraiser signature;
3. Included a complete supplemental statement as required by the Form 8283 instructions that:
a. Identifies the conservation purposes furthered by the conservation easement,
b. Shows, if before and after valuation is used, the “fair market value” of the underlying property before and after the easement;
c. States whether you granted the easement in order to get a permit or other approval from a local or other governing authority and whether the donation was required by a contract, and
d. If you or a related person has any interest in other property nearby, describes that interest.
4. Provided a complete final copy of the appraisal, including any other required supporting documentation, to our office.
We cannot make assurances as to whether a particular land or easement will be deductible, what monetary value the Internal Revenue Service and/or State will accept, what the resulting tax benefits of the deduction may be, or whether the appraisal is accurate or qualified.