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Metallica frontman James Hetfield feels charitable

James HetfieldMetallica singer and guitarist James Hetfield may well be feeling charitable around the holidays. The Marin County Board of Supervisors just voted unanimously to accept Hetfield's donation of 330 acres overlooking California's Lucas Valley. The land is to be preserved as farmland.

Hetfield has previously donated more than 400 acres to the county for use as open space.
Both parcels are around Hetfield's home.

The donation is a nice-enough story. But the real story? Hetfield's land-use consultant, Scott Hochstrasser, is a genius. Here's why: the donations make Hetfield look good, they may garner him a generous tax deduction and they afford him something that he may not have a lot of -- privacy.

If his gift qualifies as a charitable deduction, and it's been owned for more than a year, Hetfield may be entitled to a charitable deduction equal to the entire fair-market value of the property. For individual taxpayers, the deduction would be limited to a 30% limit of adjusted gross income -- but eligible to be carried over for 5 years for the portion of the deduction that goes unused.

To qualify for a federal income tax deduction, the land or easement must be donated to a public charity or government entity (here, Marin County). The donation must serve at least one of the following conservation purposes:
  • the preservation of land areas for outdoor recreation by, or the education of, the general public;
  • the protection of a relatively natural habitat of fish, wildlife or plants, or similar ecosystem;
  • the preservation of open space (including farmland and forest land) where such preservation is for the scenic enjoyment of the general public or pursuant to a clearly delineated Federal, State or local governmental conservation policy, and will yield a significant public benefit, or
  • the preservation of an historically important land area or a certified historic structure.
Since the contribution is to be used to promote "agricultural conservation efforts", the donation would appear to serve a number of those purposes. In other words, it would seem to qualify for purposes of a federal income tax donation.

Further, by restricting the rights of others to develop the land (a key part of most charitable donations of real property), Hetfield has ensured that a full slate of McMansions won't sprout up next to his home. It will stay green, attractive and - best of all - private.

It's a win-win. One wonders why more celebs don't follow Hetfield's lead.

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