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Preserving Family Properties

Deciding whether a family’s historic property can (or should) be handed down to the next generation, and if so, how to accomplish that, involves planning. Whether a property is anticipated to be transferred out of, or within, family ownership, there are certain key activities that can help make difficult decisions a little bit easier.


Understanding and recording the full range of what a family has is important. A family’s assets may include more than historic real estate: archives (documents, photographs, etc), furnishings, and other collections may all be worth preserving in some form, and there are people who can help ensure that family collections such as these are also preserved.


Most families, however, are primarily concerned about the buildings, structures, and landscape that comprise their historic property. Answering some initial questions will help identify what options exist for each family’s individual circumstances.


  • Does the family wish to maintain full ownership of the property, but transfer the title to different family members? Will that transfer take place immediately, or will it be triggered by a future event?


  • Does the family have the financial means to continue to responsibly preserve the property into the future, including maintenance, insurance, etc?


  • Are all family members, and importantly, those family members who have any legal rights to the property, in agreement about the transfer of the property out of its current ownership?


  • Are the benefits of financial inheritance important to family members, or can the family afford not to realize financial gain from transferring their property?


  • Would the family benefit from potential income tax or estate tax deductions?


  • Are there aspects of the property that the family members wish to remain unchanged, and if so, what are they?

  • Does the family wish to retain some ownership and control over certain aspects of a property, with other responsibilities transferred into different ownership?


Preserving family properties are sometimes complex ordeals, with family members not sharing a desired outcome or perhaps having similar financial goals or needs. The best outcomes are usually predicated on all family members communicating their wishes early in the decision-making process, and all parties understanding that at the conclusion of the process, all will likely have compromised—hopefully in only minor ways--along the way.


Clear, inclusive, and ongoing communications throughout the process of planning for a property’s future goes a long way to avoid the types of conflicts that can land family members in court and costly litigations.



One of the only permanent and perpetual ways to preserve privately-owned historic properties is through the use of legally binding agreements called easements or restrictions. For those families whose primary real estate asset is undeveloped or open space land, conservation easement protection is a common and familiar approach to ensuring that the land will be perpetually protected and remain unchanged.  The same legal mechanism that is used to protect land can be applied to historic houses: while less familiar than conservation easements, preservation easements afford similar protection to historic buildings that conservation easements provides for land. Contact a qualified easement holder (such as PRI) for more information about how easement protection might contribute to a family’s goal to preserve their historic property.


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