Fairfax, VA (Law Firm Newswire) January 30, 2015 – Conservation easements played a major role in the estate planning of Mellon family parcels for sale.
Several key pieces of real estate were among the marquee items in the estate of the late Listerine heiress Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, who died in March 2014 at the age of 103. One of them, a 100-acre estate in Nantucket, Massachusetts, sold for $21.5 million on December 18. As in the case of the Virginian’s other properties for sale, estate-planning-relevant conservation restrictions were attached to the island property.
The Bunny Mellon property made headlines in the week leading up to Christmas, not least because the large expanse of oceanfront property had major conservation restrictions that preserved the landscape and limited the parcel to no more than one oceanfront dwelling — where it currently sits — and another non-waterfront property.
A conservation restriction, or more specifically, a conservation easement, was also an estate factor in connection with the August listing of Mellon’s 2,047-acre estate in Upperville, Virginia, for $70 million.
“The decision to employ a conservation easement in connection with the Upperville estate is an example of sound estate planning that allows great flexibility, results in significant tax savings and helps preserve a property’s conservation value,” said Lisa McDevitt, a prominent attorney in Fairfax, Virginia, who specializes in estate planning law. “And the grantor of the easement can continue to own and use the property while they are alive.”
In those cases in which a conservation easement benefits the public by permanently protecting conservation resources deemed important and meets other federal tax code requirements, the property can qualify as a tax-deductible charitable donation. But conservation easements are also invaluable in helping reduce estate taxes.
“The presence of a conservation easement typically lowers the market value of a property for sale, which in turn reduces any potential estate tax,” McDevitt said. “At the same time, use of a conservation easement helps the heirs keep a property from being divided up.”
The Upperville property was famously known for serving as a thoroughbred racehorse farm for Mellon’s late husband's Rokeby Stables. It included three primary residences led by a 10,000 square-foot home; 20 smaller houses; two stables; several barns and shops; a pool house designed by noted architect I.M. Pei; multiple greenhouses; and a private airstrip.
The $21.5 million sale price of Mellon’s Nantucket estate represented the second-highest priced sale of property on the island in 2014. The most expensive sale on Nantucket in 2014 was recorded only week earlier, when the property of another Mellon family member, Richard Mellon Scaife, sold for $27.16 million. That sale price, which was the highest ever for a residential real-estate transaction on Nantucket, closed on a 1.6-acre compound on the island’s north shore.
Lisa Lane McDevitt
2155 Bonaventure Drive
Vienna, VA 22181