Factors to Consider When Including a Vacation Home in Your Estate Planning

A vacation home is a place where families enjoy their time together. Sharing time and creating memories is the hallmark of such properties, and often there is a desire to preserve the home’s ownership within the family system for generations to come. Yet, even seemingly harmonious families can experience discord and exasperation when parents are no longer alive to mediate conflicts. Creating a plan around your family vacation home can avoid later disputes and a potentially forced sale of a beloved property.

The Value of a Family Vacation Home

Statistics show that over eighty percent of vacation homes, cottages, and cabins are without mortgage debts and may sometimes represent a substantial asset within an owner’s estate. Some estate beneficiaries may prefer to access the cash value of their inheritance because they are putting children through college or have other financial needs to meet. Additionally, stepchildren or spouses who have weak emotional ties to the property’s memories may see no value in the property at all outside of its cash value.

Protect Your Vacation Home from Family Conflict

To avoid turmoil and preserve the property within the family system for continued generations, begin with a family conversation to gauge beneficiaries’ interest level. It may be devastating to learn that without you spearheading the family gatherings at the property, many of your children may not have the interest or the ability to use or maintain the home. If one or more inheritors choose to maintain the property and others do not, crafting your estate plan to balance assets of equal value to offset property ownership will help to prevent future conflict.

The key is to manage the expectations of all listed beneficiaries to avoid misunderstandings and miscommunication. Everyone wants to feel they are receiving some level of benefit based on their circumstances and expectations. Once you understand their interest levels in the property, begin the conversation about property taxes, unexpected repairs, maintenance, and mortgage responsibility, if applicable. Typically, your children will prefer to keep their financial discussions private so speak to them individually. Group settings rarely lead to positive outcomes regarding finances.

Create a Revocable Property Trust for Your Vacation Home

Consideration should be given to creating a stand-alone revocable property trust in addition to your living trust for vacation property.  By doing so, the vacation property maintains protection against creditors and a more effortless manner to facilitate the costs of the home.  Before transferring your family vacation home to your heirs or placing it in a property trust, ask these key questions:

  • Do all heirs have an interest in owning the property?
  • How often will each heirs’ families use said property, and are there vacation date conflicts?
  • Do all heirs have the resources to assume the financial commitment of ownership?
  • Do all heirs have a good and working relationship one to the other?
  • Do all heirs feel that conflict resolution, particularly around the amount of use of the property and ability to cover costs, is possible?

Using the Gifting Strategy for Your Vacation Home

You can pass your vacation home to your heirs as a lifetime gift, as part of your estate plan after your death, or as a future interest gift. A future interest gift (usually a Qualified Personal Residence Trust) works well when gifting real property like a vacation home. This approach provides unlimited use of the property for some time, may reduce your federal taxable estate, eases concerns about your family member’s ability to cover the cost of the initial ownership and provides asset protection.

A family vacation home creates wonderful times spent together, and the desire to keep it for generations is essential to some but not all family members. Assess your own goals for your inheritors and whether they have the desire and ability to handle the property, and then meet with an elder law attorney to execute your estate plan, including your vacation home. The effort you put into your plan now can preserve your vacation home within your family system and in the memories of future generations.

Please contact us today at 877-585-1885 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your legal matters.

Thanks for reading.

Christopher E. Botti, Esq., Certified Specialist in Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Law