Extension helps keep family forests intact in Madison County and around the state

Of the 10 million acres of family-owned forestland in Virginia, more than 4 million acres of it is owned by people 65 years or older. About 80 percent of these landowners envision their woodlands staying intact, in forest, and in the family; but only 3 percent have taken active steps to ensure this will happen.   There are many challenges when passing that land forward to the next generation.

Extension Agent Adam Downing (center) with a family from Orange with whom he did legacy planning.

Extension Agent Adam Downing (center) with a family from Orange with whom he did legacy planning.

To make that transition smoother, Virginia Cooperative Extension, in close partnership with the Virginia Department of Forestry, is helping families in Virginia take the next step in preparing to pass their land to members in the family by holding a series of legacy planning workshops.

Those who have gone through the classes in said they were big help in learning the importance of planning ahead to minimize financial costs and emotional challenges that come along with securing the legacy of their land.

“This was a great course for us. We are definitely making more of an effort to get the children and extended family members involved. Thank you for a great course” said one participant who is concerned about passing their land to their children.

High land values and taxes may lead heirs to sell land to meet financial obligations when the pressure point of passing land to the next generation is faced. This is a major force behind the annual loss of 16,000 forested acres. Many owners are torn between not wanting to see their land developed and not wanting to tie the hands of the next generation. A common barrier to estate planning is using planning tools and having confidence in knowing where to start.

With this in mind, the Northern District’s Forestry and Natural Resources Extension program partnered with the VDOF’s Forestland Conservation Program wanted to educate landowners so they could better articulate personal land transfer goals and begin succession planning.

“It’s very rewarding to support landowners in such a challenging issue that is important not only from a resource perspective but also for their families,” said Adam Downing, a forestry and natural resources agent in Madison County who helps put on the programs.

Family members participated in a hands-on workshop that provided them with free legal guidance from professionals experienced in intergenerational land transfer and landowner testimonials of estate planning strategies. Participants indicated the program would increase the likelihood of their property staying in the family by 75 percent. Follow-up surveys reveal that in the six months following the short-course, more 75 percent have begun estate planning.

Participants estimate on average family savings of $500,000 as a result of this program, and approximately 60,000 acres of land is expected to remain open and family owned. This program has been recognized regionally and nationally, and is considered one of the most successful land-transition programs by Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and has expanded to Southside Virginia with plans to also reach landowners in Southeast and Southwest Virginia.

 Written by Emily Mertes.