Rising land values, mineral appreciation and other factors have left many landowners unprepared for the successive ownership of the family farm or ranch, despite estate planning efforts.  As a result, Texas is losing farms and ranches at an alarming rate, thanks largely to the estate tax.

Due to the imminent expiration of both conservation easement tax incentives (2011) and the current $5 million estate tax exclusion (2012), there has never been a better time for farmers and ranchers to protect their land with an agricultural conservation easement. This small window of opportunity makes it possible for landowners to save millions on estate taxes and ensure that their land passes intact to the next generation.  To make the most of these incentives landowners must act now.

National tax expert Steve Small says, “The landowners I advise are often shocked to discover that in spite of extensive estate planning efforts, their heirs will still have to sell all or part of the ranch to pay the IRS.”  One tool available to landowners is the voluntary agricultural conservation easement.  By restricting all future non-agricultural development of the property, a conservation easement can provide significant income and estate tax benefits, enabling families to avoid debilitating tax burdens and to pass land down to future generations.

Small, the country’s leading authority on conservation easements, according to Forbes Magazine, will travel to Texas to lead workshops on June 22 in Houston and June 23 in Amarillo. A former IRS attorney, Small helped write and implement the federal tax code sections governing conservation easements. Today, in his private practice, he advises landowners on protecting valued family lands, including preparing for the next generation of ownership.

The seminars are especially timely because the enhanced tax incentives for conservation easements expire at the end of 2011. Passed by Congress in 2010 for a two-year period only, these incentives enable greater utilization of the conservation easement tool by those who make their living from agriculture.

Organized by the Texas Agricultural Land Trust (TALT), a private non-profit founded by leaders of several statewide agricultural organizations, the seminars are geared towards farmers, ranchers, and their advisors. "Ranching and agriculture continue to be a way of life in much of Texas, and this heritage is threatened every time open space is lost," said TALT Executive Director Blair Fitzsimons. "If families are going to keep their land together, they often need information and effective tools to help them.”

The four-hour “Saving Family Lands” seminar will be held in Houston on June 22nd at the Houstonian, 111 North Post Oak Lane, from 1:30 - 5:30 p.m. The second seminar will be held on June 23rd in Amarillo at the Amarillo Club, 600 S. Tyler Street, from 1:30 - 5:30 p.m. The cost is $75/person, and $100 for those seeking Continuing Legal Education credit.

Space is limited. To register for the seminars, visit TALT's website, www.txaglandtrust.org, or call 210-826-0074.