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Woodland Legacy Planning

Pennsylvania’s 738,00 private forest landowners manage nearly 70 percent, or about 11.5 million acres, of woodlands across the Commonwealth. Surprisingly, more than 65 percent of all forest landowners own less than ten acres. Whether you own an acre or several thousand acres, you need a legacy plan to carry your stewardship forward.

The fate of your land—and Pennsylvania’s natural resources—is in your hands.

Passing on your land and your values

The average age of Pennsylvania’s forest landowners is 57, indicating an unprecedented transfer of forest ownership will take place in the next decade. At least 80 percent of these owners intend to leave their forestland as a legacy to their heirs or other beneficiaries. Only 40 percent have actually discussed a legacy plan; fewer still have a plan in place.

Unfortunately, forests are most at risk for conversion and loss when land transfer takes place. Without a plan, your land could be lost to development, subdivision, conversion to nonforest uses, forced sale of timber, or land sale to pay large estate taxes.

When forestland is lost, so too are public benefits—fresh water, clean air, wildlife—and private benefits—solitude, recreational opportunities, aesthetic beauty, and spiritual renewal. Don’t let this happen.

A Tale of Two Landowners

Forestry Education Saved Their Heritage

Jack and Nancy Kentzel found refuge in their Butler County farmland they inherited and the forested Venango County land they added to parcel by parcel. They intended to leave their land to their son, Paul. However, Nancy died at a young age and Jack, who lived for many more years, failed to make an estate plan.

When Jack died, the state and federal inheritance taxes on the property were enormous. Paul and his wife, Cathy, harvested timber from the land to pay the tax bill, but the proceeds fell far short and the harvest was improperly done. The farm had to be sold.

The couple vowed to keep the remaining forestland in the family and never again destroy a forest due to lack of forestry education. They formed a not-for-profit foundation with friends and nearby landowners to purchase and preserve a woodland property adjacent to their own, which had an uncertain future. In the course of developing the foundation, and with help from Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) foresters, they learned sustainable forestry practices. Along with their children, they developed an estate plan for their land that includes conservation easements, methods for generating income, and rules of inheritance. Planning and education helped the Kentzels continue to enjoy Jack and Nancy’s forestland

A Business Structure Ensures Their Legacy

The Antonios, Sydney and Evon, own and manage more than 450 acres of woodland that has been in their family since 1959. While caring for an elderly parent, they realized their own mortality and the need to make estate and legacy plans.

As a family they set goals: to keep their land in the family, to generate income from the forest, and to keep the forest healthy and productive for the long-term. They consulted with a certified forester, who helped them develop a forest management plan. Next they engaged a legal specialist. who helped them create a Limited Liability Company (LLC) that holds their Limited Partnership Association (LPA).

These legal entities allow the Antonios to keep their land within the family and allow flexibility for making changes as the family’s concerns and interests change. They also provide a legal structure for financial and business assets and help to reduce taxes.

Take steps to guide the future of your land

  • Make a commitment—to your land and its management. It’s never too late or too early to involve future owners in the use, management, and enjoyment of your land.
  • Gather information about your land in preparation for a meeting with your family or other beneficiaries of your land.
  • Write down your interests and develop your goals based on your values for the property.
  • Discuss these with your family or future landowner. Develop a shared vision for the future of the land.
  • Seek help from a natural resources professional. Start with a forest consultant who can create a stewardship action plan for your woodland.
  • Consult with qualified professionals who are knowledgeable about forest estates—a tax attorney or CPA, an estate-planning attorney, a financial adviser or investment expert, and land trust specialists.
  • Access unbiased, research-based information from sources such as Cooperative Extension or Soil and Water Conservation Districts to learn about options. Ask questions and connect with other landowners.*
  • Develop a business model that will allow the next owner to keep the property intact and functional.
  • Discuss your options and record important decisions. Then implement your plan. Create a calendar to keep your plan up to date.
  • Create fond memories. Get your family and friends out to work and have fun on the property.

*Visit Penn State Extension’s PA Forest Stewards volunteer network.

Until you have a plan, your legacy is only a good intention.

Support for the printing of this publication was provided by the USDA Forest Service’s Competitive Stewardship Program.

Images provided courtesy of Sandy Smith, Penn State Extension, Cornell Cooperative Extension, the Antonio family, and the Kentzel family.

Contact Information

Allyson Brownlee Muth, Ed.D.
  • Forest Stewardship Program Associate
Phone: 814-865-3208

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Woodland Legacy Planning

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