Part 2 of 4 Parts

Keeping the family vacation home in the family means a lot emotionally for many families.  The family vacation home is often where the best memories of time together are made and somehow becomes as much a part of the building as the walls and the roof.

If you have one child and absolutely no money worries maybe it is as simple as leaving it in your Will to him/her, knowing your estate is large enough to pay the taxes resulting from your death and leave enough money for him/her to maintain it and pay all of the annual expenses.  Real life rarely is quite that cut and dry.

Instead there are often multiple children, stepchildren, half siblings, grandchildren, and divorces and second marriages in subsequent generations too.  The net result is that it is complicated legally, financially and emotionally.

Step 2: Assessing the Vacation Home

Step Two in assessing how, when and to whom the vacation home will be sold, transferred in your lifetime or through your estate is to be an observer in your vacation home for at least a year.  You should keep a journal that details some objective items as a benchmark and also personal observations of family interactions.

Recording observations frequently will help you have greater insight into the role of the vacation home in your family and how it may differ from person to person. I strongly recommend that your family, other than the co-owners of the vacation home, not be told about the journaling so that what you are observing is real and not skewed by family members acting out of the ordinary.

Items for benchmarking are what you spend your money on and invest your time in to keep the vacation home running.  Tracking your monthly and annual expenses for everything from insurance, hydro and heat to property taxes and maintenances costs will be useful when you start assessing your own ability to continue to own the vacation home as you age and your income or needs change.  You need to track any contributions made by non-owning family members to these expenses, and what they express about their willingness and/or financial ability to contribute.  This will be important as you think about whether or not some or any of your children or your grandchildren will be able to afford to pay those expenses when you are no longer able to do so.

Another benchmarking part of your record keeping will be to identify which family members use your vacation home and for how long. You need to note when the vacation home is used by multiple family members, as well as private use by one family group if that happens.

  • Do all of them come during the high season associated with the vacation home?
  • Do any of them have vacation homes of their own?
  • Are any of them married to or cohabiting with a partner that has a vacation home or uses a different family vacation home?
  • Does everyone in each family unit use the home – i.e, your son is married with 3 children – does your son, his spouse and all the children come, or is it just your son and maybe one of the grandchildren most of the time.
  • Where do your family members live and how far away from the vacation home does each family member live?

These first two observation requirements are factually based and should be recorded as such.  The third type of observation you should be putting in the journal is more subjective so if there are two of you who own the vacation home, I suggest you both journalling the third type of observation individually and comparing your observations after the first year.

You need to observe how different family members interact with each other, including your children’s and grandchildren’s life partners. This is not an easy thing for any of us to do but I can guarantee that if you pay attention and make note of these things even weekly, you will be surprised at what you discover.

Do your family members work well together?  Who offers to help with the chores like repairs and maintenance, stacking wood, doing the cooking, cleaning, shopping, shoveling, cutting the grass, weeding, planting, putting the docks out, winterizing the property or whatever needs to be done to close it up during periods when it is not used.

Are your family members enjoying the vacation home any differently than they would be if they were at home instead – i.e., are they on the internet the whole time or enjoying whatever special features your vacation home offers?

These observation exercises are intended to provide you with valuable information as you wrestle with the thorny issue of whether your vacation home will be a blessing or a curse for one or more of your family members, and how you might address the potential conflicts or issues that might arise from the action you take.

Quite possibly this will be very uncomfortable for some of you to do, but remember you do not ever see a hearse pulling a U-Haul…you are not taking it with you!

Written by: Robin-Lee Norris -RLNorris

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