Texans are passionate about land – wide open, big land. It’s not surprising; Texas land is our abundant natural and historical heritage. But, urban sprawl and federal estate taxes are leading to an increasingly fragmented Texas. In years past there was no alternative for landowners who wanted to ensure that taxes and development didn’t fragment their legacy. Now Congress and the legislature have created a voluntary agreement known as a conservation easement. Owners of rural land have the ability to protect their land, and our state’s heritage, forever while enjoying major tax benefits and even income. As leaders in this highly specialized area of law, Braun & Gresham attorneys know how to create conservation easements to meet current needs, protect land for the future, and act as a powerful estate planning tool to reduce taxes or provide income.

The Braun & Gresham Difference

At Braun & Gresham, PLLC, we use a wide variety of tools to accomplish your estate planning goals, such as wills, living trusts, medical and financial powers of attorney and other disability- planning documents, limited liability companies, family limited partnerships, buy-sell agreements, charitable trusts, donor advised funds, conservation easements and many other strategies. We’ll help educate you about these various strategies, and together, identify which fit your circumstances best. Using the innovative and versatile estate planning solutions that Braun & Gresham is known for, we’ll create the most practical solutions and apply them in a comprehensive plan to achieve your vision for your family and assets.

“We couldn’t have done it without Braun’s team of attorneys. To find such a wonderful way of keeping the legacy of the land alive, and to have it benefit the public, too – It’s just a total win-win.”

Cecilia Dahlstrom
Texas Landowner - Estate Planning

“The very best people around doing conservation easements are Braun & Gresham. They have the creativity, the experience, the resourcefulness and the dogged determination to get it done.”

Steve Saunders
Saunders, Norval, Nichols & Atkins, LLP

“From the very beginning, Thomas was like a family adviser, working in my best interests.”

Joyce Lucas
Texas Landowner - Estate Planning

30 Minute Consultation

Having an updated and thorough estate plan is crucial when considering, or going through with a conservation easement. Trusts are usually set up to keep the land protected and taxes low for years to come. Having a solid estate plan ensures there are no discrepancies in the intent of the will, and lays out a game plan that future generations can count on. If you are considering a conservation easement or would like to learn more, contact us to arrange a 30 minute consultation.


Learn About Conservation Easements

A conservation easement is a contract between a property owner and a conservation organization, such as a land trust or government agency, to restrict the amount and type of development on the property. If more than one person owns the property, all owners must consent to the granting of the conservation easement. Every conservation easement has prohibited uses and permitted uses that are uniquely tailored to the particular property, and to the interests of the individual land owner. These conservation easements allow the owner to protect the wildlife habitat, open space character and other conservation values of the property without unreasonable interference with the owner’s continuing private property rights.

The rights in the land that the landowner restricts are detailed in every conservation easement. Usually the landowner gives up the right to subdivide or develop the property for commercial or residential purposes beyond a limited scope. Through the conservation easement, the owner conveys the right to enforce these restrictions in perpetuity to the qualified conservation organization. If the landowner sells the land thereafter, the new owner takes the land subject to the terms of the conservation easement. If the property is mortgaged, the lender must agree to subordinate its security interest to the interest of the conservation organization so that the conservation easement would survive any foreclosure.

If the requirements are met for donating the conservation easement under the Internal Revenue Service Code, then the donation may qualify as a tax deductible charitable gift. The value of this charitable gift is determined by an appraisal. The value of the land without any of the proposed restrictions is determined first. Then the appraiser determines the value of the land after the restrictions are put in place. The difference between these two values represents the value of the conservation easement. If the conservation organization pays any cash to the landowner as part of the transaction then the value of the donation is decreased.

The total reduction in fair market value reduces the value of the property for federal estate tax purposes. Conservation easements are one of the most powerful estate planning tools for landowners to use to reduce or eliminate their federal estate tax liability, while maintaining many of the benefits of owning the land. Our firm often works together with our client’s tax and estate planning attorney, accountant, and investment advisers to coordinate this strategy to meet the client’s goals.

The charitable donation of a conservation easement produces significant income tax benefits.

Donated Conservation Easements

Donation of a conservation easement is the most effective tool commonly available to landowners who want to keep their land undeveloped. These voluntary agreements to conserve the land are negotiated and donated to qualified conservation organizations with the power to enforce them in perpetuity. Landowners receive major income and estate tax benefits, while achieving their goals for their land. Braun & Gresham attorneys have been successfully representing landowners through this complex process for years.

Sale of Development Rights

Environmental features once thought of as liabilities can now be very valuable for landowners who do not want to sell or develop their land. Features like streams, wetlands, caves, sinkholes and endangered species habitat in the right locations can be preserved and managed under conservation easements that are sold for substantial payments. Braun & Gresham has a successful track record of identifying and selling these valuable features while helping families keep their land for recreation and agriculture.

IRS Audits

Since donated conservation easements result in significant tax benefits, those benefits are sometimes audited by the Internal Revenue Service. Braun & Gresham has developed winning strategies for defending landowners whose tax benefits are challenged. The best strategy of all is the thorough and professional job that Braun & Gresham does in handling the original transaction so there is nothing to challenge. However, we have also helped many clients who didn’t call us until after they were audited.

General Information

A conservation easement can be an important tool to:

  • retain private ownership of land
  • conserve wildlife habitat, open space and other conservation values
  • protect productive agricultural land
  • preserve valuable family land as a legacy for future generations
  • maintain the scenic areas and the rural character of land in the path of development
  • preserve land which is historically important
  • reduce property taxes
  • reduce federal estate taxes
  • reduce income taxes
  • reduce capital gain taxes
  • shift greater financial value to future generations

Success Stories - Donated Conservation Easements

To Preserve and Protect: Pedernales Falls River Corridor


When looming development threatened an idyllic slice of the Texas Hill Country known as the Pedernales Falls River Corridor, a group of like-minded neighbors took action to preserve the rare riverside beauty, habitat and history of the corridor, not only for themselves, but for future generations. These landowners used conservation easements to protect their property forever, and are encouraging other property owners along the corridor to do so as well.

Eagle Rock Ranch: Realizing the Family Legacy


With community developments popping up like urban-sprawl weeds throughout the Texas Hill Country, Johanna Smith called on Thomas Hall to help her secure her 88-acre family ranch along Cypress Creek in Wimberley, TX.

Comprehensive Estate Planning Creates Peace of Mind


Joyce Lucas had an estate plan but it was incomplete and fragmented. To get her estate in order, Joyce engaged Thomas Hall who provided legal expertise, listening skills, gentle guidance, and answered prayers for this ranchland owner.

Success Stories - Sold Conservation Easements

Conserving the Wilbarger Creek Watershed

Braun & Gresham works to get a bill passed through the Texas legislature to conserve unique Texas land.

Partnering Up to Preserve Texas Land, Protect Water Quality

Gay Dahlstrom had a vision for the future of her family’s fifth-generation Central Texas land, the historic Dahlstrom Ranch on Onion Creek. She wanted to keep the ranch with the family, to preserve its natural beauty and features, and yet, to somehow share it with the community. Learn how Braun & Gresham, PLLC brought together a uniquely complex partnership of capable professionals to turn Gay’s vision into a real deal.

Securing the Future of Valuable Texas Land, a Family Legacy

For years, Gay Dahlstrom walked her family’s Central Texas ranch land every morning, soaking in the beauty and connection provided by nature while contemplating the issues of her life. Following her father’s death, she spent many of those mornings worrying about the millions of dollars worth debt she had incurred to pay the estate taxes just to hold onto the ranch. Learn how Braun & Gresham, PLLC helped safeguard her family’s historic ranch and financial situation through conservation.

Spreading the Wealth of Rick Texas Heritage, Environment

Gay Dahlstrom first arrived at her family’s historic ranch at the tender age of 18; at 80, she still walks the property regularly. Gay loves the connection the land gives her to her heritage and to the environment, and she has always wanted to share that connection with others. Now – thanks to Gay’s vision and the guidance of an expert team of land-conservation specialists– people in Central Texas will have the opportunity to experience 384 acres of one of the state’s most unique natural areas, currently known as the Howe Pasture, at the 2,254-acre Dahlstrom Ranch on Onion Creek. Learn how Braun & Gresham, PLLC helped the Dahlstrom family share its ranch land with its community as parkland for all to treasure.

The Silver Ranch: Smart Estate Planning

How a Colorado couple saved their majestic ranch from a forced sale to pay the federal estate tax and created a legacy for their family.

Conservation Easement News

  • Landowner Alert System 9-22-20

    Land Development: Landowners who are interested in subdividing their land while still retaining the rural character of their property may have the option of maintaining an agricultural valuation on the property on the new lots  through the creation of a … Continue reading →Read More »
  • Landowner Alert System 8-25-20

    Estate Planning: Planning for your potential disability or incapacity is not what you necessarily think of as “estate planning.”  But, designating a trusted family member or friend to manage your assets and aid in your healthcare decisions is a critical … Continue reading →Read More »
  • Landowner Alert System 8-11-20

    Conservation: Supported by a bipartisan effort in Congress, President Trump signed into law the Great American Outdoors Act on August 4, 2020. The Great American Outdoors Act accomplished two major conservation goals: (1) it permanently and fully funded the Land … Continue reading →Read More »
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