Estate Planning for Forest Landowners

Comprehensive guide available online

In addition to the realities of estate taxes on forested land, the estate planning guide discusses strategies and tools to interest younger family members in keeping their family forest lands intact. Photo by NRCS>
In addition to the realities of estate taxes on forested land, the estate planning guide discusses strategies and tools to interest younger family members in keeping their family forest lands intact. Photo by NRCS.

Family forest owners may use consulting foresters or state extension foresters for advice on the technical details of land management, but many owners shy away from seeking help with how best to pass their forest land on to the next generation. Poor estate planning — or no planning at all — can result in the next generation inheriting a tax bill that requires selling timber or the forest land itself, which in turn can lead to subdivision and development.

Estate Planning for Forest Landowners, a U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) publication, provides a comprehensive guide to estate planning specifically designed for forest landowners.

“Over the past decades, demographic, social, and market trends have converged to increase the effects of the federal estate tax on rural landowners,” said John Greene, emeritus scientist with the SRS Forest Economics and Policy unit based in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. “Although the minimum estate value for paying taxes may seem high, family forest owners, farmers, and ranchers are actually many times more likely than the U.S. population in general to incur the estate tax.”

“Besides, the guide is about estate planning, not just the estate tax,” added Greene. “As well as describing how to use the available tax provisions to minimize or avoid the federal estate tax, it discusses strategies and tools to interest younger family members in keeping their forest lands intact, and provides guidance on how to manage it for the values the family holds for it.”

Greene and coauthors William Siegel and Harry Haney designed Estate Planning for Forest Landowners to provide specific guidelines and assistance on applying estate planning to forest properties. The guide, which is available online and free of charge from SRS, is designed for use by both private landowners and the advisers — legal, financial, insurance, and forestry professionals — who help landowners with estate planning. The guide presents a working knowledge of the federal estate and gift tax law as it relates to forest properties.

Access Estate Planning for Forest LandownersAccess additional resources on forest taxation from the Forest Service.

For more information, email John Greene at jgreene01@fs.fed.us.

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