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Model Legal Documents

The Pennsylvania Land Trust Association develops and maintains model documents to help users complete projects and manage their operations efficiently and effectively.

Introduction

The Pennsylvania Land Trust Association maintains a suite of model legal documents and accompanying commentaries to help land trusts, government units, landowners, and donors (as well as their respective legal counsels) implement conservation transactions and other conservation-related activities. The models and commentaries are the products of thorough research and analysis of best practices, scrutiny by legal professionals, real world testing, and user feedback. They feature plain language, consistent form, easy-to-read formatting, and incorporation of best practices. The models are used regularly, reviewed for potential improvement, and updated to reflect advances in knowledge and remain state-of-the-art legal documents.

The models are written to be fair to all parties in advancing the purpose of the particular document. The models conform to Pennsylvania law but can be easily adapted for use in other states.

Thanks to the generosity of the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association’s donors, the models are available free-of-charge at ConservationTools.org.

Why Use Model Documents?

Model documents provide several benefits:

  • They help avoid the legal costs of reinventing the wheel, allowing model users to save money and focus their resources on addressing issues unique to a project.
  • By working within a common model framework, users from different organizations are better able to share ideas and help one another with drafting and other implementation issues.
  • Use of a model adds credibility during negotiations, since all parties have equal access to a widely accepted legal document and its commentary
  • The research and development invested into each state-of-the-art model—a greater dedication of time and resources than any one or small group of users would commit on their own—enable people to accomplish their work as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Those who have worked with a particular version of a legal document for years may doubt the value of familiarizing themselves with a new version. However, the benefits of using a regularly updated, thoroughly vetted model usually outweigh the time saved by using a familiar version that has not been strengthened by insight from years of scrutiny and use across the country.

The Models in Brief

The Association’s suite of model documents includes the following items:

Model Real Estate Documents

Model Instruments for Land and Easement Acquisition

Model Grant of Purchase Option

Creates the right but not the obligation to purchase land or easements.

Model Grant of Right of First Offer

Ensures that the landowner will first offer the property to the grantee before others have an opportunity to purchase.

Model Grant of Right of First Refusal

Gives the grantee the opportunity to match any offer from a prospective buyer.

Model Conservation Transaction Addendum

Ensures that issues specific to conservation are properly addressed when using a standard real estate purchase agreement.

Model Conservation Easement Donation Agreement

Spells out the terms for donating and accepting easements and related contributions.

Model Conservation Easements

Model Grant of Conservation Easement and Declaration of Covenants

Shaped by numerous cycles of practitioner review and continuing user feedback, no easement document in the nation has undergone greater public scrutiny and testing.

Model Grant of Conservation Easement and Declaration of Covenants for Riparian Buffer Protection

An easement tailored for riparian buffer projects.

Model Trail and Other Access Easements

Model Trail Easement Agreement

The document of choice for most trail projects.

Model Grant of Trail Easement

A short form to use when brevity is crucial.

Model Grant of Fishing and Boating Access Easement

Ensures public access for fishing or boating.

Model Fishing Access Agreement

Hybrid easement provides for both resource protection and public access for fishing.

Model Water Quality Improvement Easement

Provides access to undertake AMD remediation projects and maintain treatment systems.

Model Documents Ancillary to Easement Transactions

Model Mortgage Subordination

Protects easements from bank foreclosures and is necessary for charitable tax deductions.

Model Stewardship Funding Covenant

Structures and guarantees payments for easement stewardship.

Other Model Documents

Model Release Agreement

Having volunteers and other participants in an organization’s activities sign a well-crafted release is a significant step to managing risk.

Model Riparian Buffer Protection Overlay District

Helps local governments draft practical, science-based, legally enforceable regulations to protect riparian buffers while respecting the rights of landowners.

Model Policy for Conservation Easement Amendment

Tailored to the Conservation and Preservation Easements Act and laws governing the conduct of charitable organizations in Pennsylvania.

Model Maintenance and Operation Agreement

Defines partnerships between governments and nonprofits when providing outdoor recreation for the public.

Model Checklist for Real Estate Transactions

Organize and expedite the closing of property transactions for conservation projects.

Using a Model Document

Review the Commentary

Most of the model documents are accompanied by an expansive commentary. (Most are also backed by a guide that explores more broadly the situations where the model is applicable.) When using a model document, review the associated commentary! The commentary provides optional and alternative provisions, the reasoning behind each of the model's provisions, and guidance in applying the model to particular circumstances.

Get Legal Counsel

The models and commentaries save you the legal costs of reinventing wheels. However, be sure to involve legal counsel before completing a project. A good attorney will ensure that, given particular circumstances, the easement document does what you intend it to do.

Get Updates

Check ConservationTools.org periodically for updates to the models and commentaries.

Adapt to Your State

Users outside of Pennsylvania need to take care to modify a model to account for differences in state laws.

Start from the Model

You should feel free to create your own version of a model by incorporating additional or alternative provisions (from the commentary or otherwise) that reflect your policies and preferences (and state laws). That version or the then-current version of the model (available at ConservationTools.org) should be used as the starting point for each new endeavor. You should generally avoid using a document prepared for one project as a starting point for another. A model serves in part to remind users of the issues that need to be considered in the drafting process. The value of a model is lost, and errors and omissions become very likely, when a document prepared for one circumstance is used as a starting point for another.

Users Can Help

Provide Feedback

The Association posts each new model edition for everyone to view and use—at no charge. In exchange, users are asked to share their experiences and comments with the model’s developers to better inform future editions. The model’s developers address every suggestion received.

Submit a Testimonial

If you have found a model document helpful, please consider submitting a testimonial to help the Association demonstrate the value of the models to those who make them financially possible.

Model Real Estate Documents

Model Instruments for Land and Easement Acquisition

Model Grant of Purchase Option

Link to library item

A purchase option assures the option holder of the right to purchase property at a certain price within a certain time period but without an obligation to do so. In granting an option, the landowner gives up the right to sell freely during the option period. The Model Grant of Purchase Option can be useful for buying a conservation organization the time it needs to research a deal, raise funds, assemble adjacent parcels, handle messy ownership situations, and more.

Model Grant of Right of First Offer

Link to library item

The Model Grant of Right of First Offer provides a tool for a conservation organization to document a landowner commitment to turn first to that organization before looking elsewhere for a purchaser. It includes both a right of first offer and a right of first negotiation. It can be structured so that either the landowner or the organization makes the first offer. Unlike the purchase option, it does not generally require the landowner to accept the organization's offer.

Model Grant of Right of First Refusal

Link to library item

The Model Grant of Right of First Refusal may be used separately or together with the Model Grant of Right of First Offer to assure that, after exposure to the market, the conservation organization is afforded an opportunity to match a competing bid the landowners are ready to accept.

Model Conservation Transaction Addendum

Link to library item

Standard purchase and sale agreements, such as the agreement for vacant land published by the Board of Realtors, do not contain all the provisions that a conservation organization would want to have when committing to a real estate transaction. The Model Conservation Transaction Addendum provides supplemental provisions that conservation organizations should consider incorporating into their purchase and sale agreements.

Model Conservation Easement Donation Agreement

Link to library item

The Model Conservation Easement Donation Agreement spells out the steps in the easement process and the commitments and expectations of the land trust and landowner. The provisional second edition is complete and ready for use. It addresses IRS Notice 2017-10 and Land Trust Alliance advisories regarding pass-through entities and tax shelters.

Model Conservation Easements

Model Grant of Conservation Easement and Declaration of Covenants

Link to library item

The Model Grant of Conservation Easement and Declaration of Covenants is a state-of-the-art legal document that can be customized to nearly any situation. The seventh edition was published in 2017. The model is informed by many years of regular and heavy use by land trusts, governments, and landowners across the nation. No easement document has benefited from more real-world testing, user-scrutiny, and cycles of peer review. The model's expansive commentary explains the reasoning behind every provision, instructs on applying the model to particular circumstances, and provides alternative and optional provisions to address a variety of circumstances and preferences. The library includes a Quick Start Guide to introduce new users to the model.

Model Grant of Conservation Easement and Declaration of Covenants for Riparian Buffer Protection

Link to library item

The Model Grant of Conservation Easement and Declaration of Covenants for Riparian Buffer Protection provides users with a model grant of conservation easement tailored specifically for the protection of a riparian buffer along a waterway. It shares a development platform with the Model Grant of Conservation Easement.

Model Trail and Other Access Easements

If conservation of natural resources is a goal of a trail or fishing access easement project, the following models pair easily with the Association's model conservation easements (see above). Alternatively, the model conservation easement documents include optional provisions for combining conservation and public access objectives in a single document.

Model Trail Easement Agreement

Link to library item

By donating or selling a trail easement to a nonprofit organization or government, landowners may provide their land for a public trail without having to subdivide the land or lose ownership and control of the land. The Model Trail Easement Agreement is used to set the terms by which the trail is built, maintained and used as well as clarify the landowner's rights and establish who may be liable if an accident occurs on the trail. Used widely in and outside of Pennsylvania, this model is the Association’s preferred trail easement form.

Model Grant of Trail Easement

Link to library item

Sometimes brevity is the paramount concern of landowners. The Model Grant of Trail Easement is brief--one page (exclusive of signatures) as compared to nearly five for the Model Trail Easement Agreement. However, if establishing certainty as to landowner and holder rights and responsibilities and other trail matters is of significant concern, the Trail Easement Agreement is the better choice.

Model Grant of Fishing and Boating Access Easement

Link to library item

The Model Grant of Fishing & Boating Access Easement secures public access to waterways while respecting the needs of the landowners providing the access. Users may customize the model to accommodate the forms of public access most appropriate to the property (e.g., fishing, boating, or other recreational and educational uses.) The model may be used alone or coupled with a Grant of Conservation Easement to provide natural resource protections as well.

Model Fishing Access Agreement and Commentary

Link to library item

The hybrid easement document provides for both resource protection and public access for fishing. It is a tool for conservation organizations and governmental entities to build cooperative relationships with private landowners to provide conservation and recreation benefits to the public while keeping properties in the control of the owners.

Model Water Quality Improvement Easement

Link to library item

The Water Quality Improvement Easement secures access through and to property for the purpose of remediating the effects of abandoned mine drainage.

Model Documents Ancillary to Easement Transactions

Model Mortgage Subordination

Link to library item

When a mortgage precedes an easement on a property, there is no guaranty of perpetual enforceability of the easement unless the Mortgage Holder signs a document (sometimes called a "mortgage subordination") that allows the easement to survive a foreclosure of the mortgage. The Model Mortgage Subordination, although it ultimately may not be used in the form presented, presents a highly instructional guide to the matters to be addressed in a subordination form.

Model Stewardship Funding Covenant

Link to library item

The Model Stewardship Funding Covenant is used by land trusts in conservation easement projects to secure payment of deferred contributions and other conservation commitments made by owners of the eased land. These commitments can be made binding on both present and future owners of the eased land. The model offers ten basic ways to structure stewardship funding arrangements. With it, there is no need for land trusts to insist upon lump sum stewardship payments from landowners due at the time of easement closing; they can be creative in structuring with landowners a stewardship funding arrangement that is both affordable and adequate to support long-term stewardship.

Other Model Documents

Model Release Agreement

Link to library item

The risk of being held responsible for injuries or property damage associated with organizing volunteer, educational, recreational, and other events and activities (or opening up property for the same) may be minimized by having those who wish to participate sign a release agreement. The Model Release Agreement helps nonprofits minimize these risks. The guide Release of Liability provides commentary for the model.

Model Riparian Buffer Protection Overlay District

Link to library item

Municipalities use the Model Riparian Buffer Protection Overlay District to ensure their land use regulations protect and restore riparian buffers. Local governments can adapt the model to their particular circumstances. The model is accompanied by a letter from attorney Fronefield Crawford, Jr. attesting to the model’s its legal defensibility and reasonableness vis-à-vis private property rights.

Model Policy for Conservation Easement Amendment

Link to library item

Every easement-holding land trust should have a policy regarding conservation easement amendment to help guide responsible consideration of potential amendments. The Model Policy for Conservation Easement Amendment is designed to assist land trusts in developing such a policy. A land trust will want to adapt the model to match its organizational culture.

Model Maintenance and Operation Agreement

Link to library item

Local governments and nonprofits may decide to partner to offer recreational opportunities for the public in parks or other spaces. The Model Maintenance and Operation Agreement is designed to help both parties define their partnerships and lessen the possibility of misunderstandings when carrying out their respective activities, tasks, and duties.

Model Checklist for Real Estate Transactions

Link to library item

The Model Checklist for Real Estate Transactions helps users organize and expedite the closing of property transactions for conservation projects. It also provides a system for establishing easily referenced records for transactions.

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Experts

Pregmon Law Offices
610-834-7411
Pregmon authored PALTA’s suite of model legal documents.
Pennsylvania Land Trust Association
717-230-8560
Loza is a contributing author and editor of PALTA’s suite of model legal documents.

Featured Library Items

Used to secure payment of deferred contributions and other conservation commitments made by present landowners and to be paid by either them or future owners. The model offers ten basic ways to structure stewardship funding arrangements in conjunction with conservation easement projects. Download …
Use to provide public access to or along a waterway for fishing, boating or other recreational and educational uses. This model legal instrument may be used as a stand-alone document or may be coupled with a Grant of Conservation Easement to provide natural resource protections as well. The comment…
The Model Grant of Trail Easement is brief -- one page (exclusive of signatures) as compared to nearly five for the model Trail Easement Agreement. The Grant of Trail Easement is provided in recognition that brevity is sometimes the paramount concern of landowners. If establishing certainty as to l…
A model legal document and accompanying guidance to help users in obtaining the "subordination" of a mortgage to a conservation easement. Download both the model and the commentary.
The hybrid easement document provides for both resource protection and public access for fishing. It is a tool for conservation organizations and governmental entities to build cooperative relationships with private landowners to provide conservation and recreation benefits to the public while keep…
The Model Conservation Easement Donation Agreement helps land trusts avoid getting stuck with unreimbursed major expenses if a would-be easement donor walks away from a project. It outlines the steps to completing a project and the responsibilities of the land trust and donor. It also helps the par…
The Model Conservation Transaction Addendum is designed for use with standard Pennsylvania Association of Realtors purchase and sale agreement forms. It addresses issues that commonly arise with conservation acquisition projects.
The Model Grant of Conservation Easement and Declaration of Covenants provides users with a state-of-the-art legal document together with an expansive commentary. Built on practitioner experiences and feedback, no easement document in the nation has benefited from more cycles of peer review. Downlo…
This model was crafted for the specific purpose of permanently protecting riparian buffers along waterways. The model is based on the 7th edition of the Model Grant of Conservation Easement and Declaration of Covenants, also published by the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association.
A purchase option assures the option holder of the right to purchase property at a certain price within a certain time period but without an obligation to do so. In granting an option, the landowner gives up the right to sell freely during the option period.
The holder of a right of first offer has the opportunity to purchase land at the landowners’ asking price before other prospective purchasers have an opportunity. An alternative configuration has the holder, rather than the landowners, making the first offer. If the right of first offer is coupled …
If an owner intends to accept an offer for the purchase of his or her land, the holder of a right of first refusal has the opportunity to purchase the land at the price and terms offered by the prospective buyer. If the holder of the right declines to purchase on those exact terms, the owner is the…
Designed to help local governments and nonprofits define their relationships and lessen the possibility of misunderstands when partnering to offer recreational opportunities for the public in parks or other spaces.
The risk of being held responsible for injuries or property damage associated with organizing volunteer, educational, recreational and other events and activities (or opening up property for the same) may be minimized by having those who wish to participate sign a release agreement. The Model Relea…
Pennsylvania municipalities may ensure the protection and restoration of riparian buffers with their land use regulations. Local governments can adapt the Model Riparian Buffer Protection Overlay District to their particular circumstances. The model is accompanied by a letter from attorney Fronefie…
The Model Checklist for Real Estate Transactions helps users organize and expedite the closing of property transactions for conservation projects. It also provides a system for establishing easily referenced records for transactions.
Secures long-term access through and to property for the purpose of remediating the effects of abandoned mine drainage.

Acknowledgements

Andrew M. Loza authored the guide, which was first published in 2011. Nate Lotze edited the second edition (2017).

The Pennsylvania Land Trust Association published this guide with support from the William Penn Foundation and the Community Conservation Partnerships Program, Environmental Stewardship Fund, under the administration of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Recreation and Conservation.

Disclaimer

Nothing contained in this or any other document available at ConservationTools.org is intended to be relied upon as legal advice. The authors disclaim any attorney-client relationship with anyone to whom this document is furnished. Nothing contained in this document is intended to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code or (ii) promoting, marketing or recommending to any person any transaction or matter addressed in this document.
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