South Carolina

A Man Who Speaks for the Trees: Gary Lamberson

Johns Island resident Gary Lamberson secured his legacy with a real estate gift.

When Gary Lamberson purchased 28 acres of overgrown forest on Johns Island, SC, in 1985, his biggest challenge wasn’t thinning excess trees or hauling them out. It was persuading his wife to let him cut any down.

“I had a difficult time convincing her,” remembers Lamberson. “I kidded her that she had a personal relationship with every one of those trees.”

Friends might argue that she’s not the only one.

A former environmental attorney, Lamberson helped save hundreds of Charleston-area trees in the path of new road development in the 1970s and 1980s.

One such case involved a proposal to cut down nearly 300 oaks along Ashley River Road. Lamberson argued it all the way to the fourth circuit court of appeals.

“We finally reached an agreement that, instead of cutting 278 trees, they would cut 11 – and eight of those were already dead,” he recalls. “We thought that was a pretty significant victory.”

When it came to estate planning, Lamberson approached his legacy with the same care and energy. The gift he and his wife designated to The Nature Conservancy was as unconventional as it is generous.

The Lambersons owned a 12-unit apartment complex in Greenville, SC, that – while a valued source of income – was complicating their retirement travel plans. They decided to donate the complex to the Conservancy, which would sell the units and place the proceeds in a Charitable Remainder Trust (CRT). The trust pays income to the Lambersons for 15 years, then reverts to the Conservancy.

“As a lawyer, I’m too familiar with people having good intentions that don’t come to pass when they do. Now I know the gift will accomplish exactly what I intended,” says Lamberson.

“We receive a little less income through the CRT, but now we’re free to travel,” he adds. “We’re going to Colorado this summer, and then to see the Painted Desert. My wife has never been to the Southwest.”

What do his children think of their parents’ plans?

“They support it,” he says. “We’re following Warren Buffett’s advice: We’re leaving them enough to do well but not enough to do nothing.”

Lamberson now hopes his enthusiasm for smart estate planning will spread.

“Don’t be put off by the complexity. The Conservancy makes it fairly simple,” he advises. “It would feel really good a year from now to find out someone else heard our story and decided to do the same thing.”

Learn more about establishing a Charitable Remainder Trust by contacting Elizabeth Foster at (843) 937-8807 x 14 or


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