What is a Land Trust?

Darlene Goodman
Darlene Goodman
Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

There are two main meanings for the term 'land trust.' First, it is an organization whose aim is to conserve natural and historic areas. These groups typically own or monitor land to ensure that it will not be developed. According to its second definition, land trusts are legal documents that transfer a real estate title to a trustee who works on behalf of the land owner. This type of revocable, living trust is usually used when a property owner wishes to keep his or her name off the title.

Typically, a conservation land trust seeks to preserve lands and waters in their natural states. For the most part, these organizations own or monitor property to make sure it remains undeveloped. They protect the land for a variety of reasons, including watershed conservation, scenic beauty, outdoor recreation, and historical preservation. The mode of conservation depends on the type of land and the way the land trust is charged with its maintenance.

There are three main ways that a land trust acquires land for its conservation efforts. First, the organization may purchase property outright, sometimes at a reduced price. Second, land owners may donate property to the trust during their lifetime or after death. Third, the land may be put under a conservation easement.

The land trust does not own the easement land, but rather, is charged with the task of making sure that it is used within specific restrictions. For example, the owner of a working farm may place a conservation easement over the land, stipulating that the property will always be used as a farm. The land trust is typically responsible for ensuring that the terms of the easement are honored by subsequent owners.

The second type of land trust is a legal action that places the title of a property in the hands of a land trustee. The ownership does not transfer, and the trustee acts on behalf of the property owner. The owner is able to maintain anonymity because only the trustee is named in the public records regarding that piece of property. These trusts are not available everywhere.

There are usually three individuals involved in this type of land trust — the trustee, the beneficial owner, and the holder of power of direction. The trustee manages the title on behalf of the other two. The beneficial owner holds the right to use the land. The holder of the power of direction directs all activities regarding the title, including transfer of ownership if the property is sold.

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