Keeping a vacation home “all in the family” | Insight on Estate Planning, 1st Quarter, 2018

A vacation home typically is treasured by families and is often passed down from generation to generation. But there may be more to transferring the family vacation home than first meets the eye. If you plunge ahead without careful planning, it could disrupt harmony and lead to a “family feud.” In some cases, relationships may even be severed forever.

Potential sources of conflict

Why would transferring a vacation home lead to conflict? The possible reasons are numerous and sundry and, of course, depend on whom you choose to name as your successors.

For starters, the home may elicit strong emotions, with precious memories for different family members. Due to this connection, someone who’s logically excluded from ownership may still harbor resentment. Or, if the ownership is divided equally — say, one-third to each of three siblings — one party might feel they have a greater right to the property than the others.

In addition, adult children are often married with children of their own, which can complicate matters, especially if any of the siblings and the respective spouses don’t get along. Existing sibling rivalries or other long-standing tensions may come into play.

Once ownership of the home is legally transferred to one or more of your kids, it can be subject to the claims of creditors. This may be troublesome when married adult children get divorced. It might even result in a situation where the divorced spouse of a sibling attempts to claim a portion of the home’s ownership.

The costs of operating a vacation home can’t be ignored either. Not even counting property taxes and mortgage interest (when applicable), some family members may be stretched thin by outlays for repairs, maintenance, and insurance. If siblings have disparate incomes, arguments about what to spend money on can boil over.

Finally, assuming you divide ownership equally among adult children, your decision may not be embraced by everyone concerned. While some may want to keep the home and preserve the traditions, others might want to sell it and use the proceeds for other purposes. Thus, the family is divided.

Communication is critical

Much of the potential discord can be avoided by talking things out before taking action. For example, you may learn that one child has no desire to continue using the home while another intends to keep it for themselves and their kids as long as they can. This might provide a practical solution that benefits everyone without causing financial hardships.

If possible, assemble all the children for a face-to-face get-together to hash out all the issues. Doing so may be more effective than making phone calls. Depending on the circumstances, spouses may — or may not — be invited. As a result of these talks, you might arrange a division of expenses or ownership that differs from the usual equal allocation.

In addition, you may discuss the possibility of renting the home to tenants, at least part of the time. This can be a lucrative source of income for your children while providing certain tax benefits. Conversely, if some members feel strongly about maintaining the home for personal use, this discussion could be tabled.

Other issues at stake

Before taking action, consider all the other legal and tax ramifications of transferring ownership of a vacation home. Although the most common method is to leave a home to children as tenants in common, this may not be the best approach if it causes discord. In that case, you may utilize a trust instead, thereby maximizing the available tax benefits under the prevailing laws. Contact your estate planning advisor for help addressing your vacation home in your estate plan.