Land Trust Law & Legal Definition


A land trust aims to protect the lands and waters that define our communities and enrich our quality of life. A land trust may accomplish this through establishing and monitoring permanent conservation easements. Conservation easements are legal agreements by which landowners voluntarily limit the development potential and use of their land. The land remains in existing ownership but the easement "runs with the title" insuring that the protections remain in place regardless of who may own the land in the future.

A land trust works with landowners to protect the natural values of their property and ensure that the scenic beauty of the area will be maintained for future generations. The protected property may be donated by land owners, or the trust may purchase property. A land trust's legal and real estate specialists work with landowners, government agencies, and community groups to:

  • create urban parks, gardens, greenways, and riverways
  • build livable communities by setting aside open space in the path of growth
  • conserve land for watershed protection, scenic beauty, and close-to-home recreation
  • safeguard the character of communities by preserving historic landmarks and landscapes
  • generate federal, state, and local conservation funding
  • promote the importance of public lands.

Another type of land trust is allowed in some states. It is a revocable, living trust primarily used to hold title to real estate for privacy and anonymity. The owner of the land can transfer title to a land trustee and specifies who will be the beneficial owner and who will have the power of direction over the trust. The beneficial owner has the right to use the land. When real estate is held in a land trust, however, only the land trustee’s name is made public – not that of the trust’s beneficiary. Unless forced to do so by a court order or statute, the land trustee will not disclose this information to anyone.

The holder of the power of direction has the right to instruct the trustee in title transactions, such as directing the trustee to transfer a deed or mortgage to someone. Typically, the beneficial interest and power of direction remains with the original owner. Unlike a regular trustee who acts according to the rules set forth in the trust, the land trustee acts only according to the direction of the holder of the power of direction. Land trust laws varies by state, so local laws should be consulted for specific requirements.