The family cottage is imbued with positive memories: bonfires under the stars, paddling in the canoe, teaching the kids how to swim, etc. Most families have a cottage tradition or two as well, whether it’s listening to Gordon Lightfoot on the drive up or always stopping at the same roadside bakery to load up on goodies for the week.
No one really wants to think about it, but when parents die, the positive memories associated with being at the cottage can quickly turn sour. Its an age old problem – who gets the family cottage, and will they share it?
The Last Will and Testament and The Family Cottage
“A will may be construed as a document that reflects a parent’s opinion of their children and confirms the children’s opinion of themselves,” writes Mark Goodfield, a Toronto tax expert in his blog The Blunt Bean Counter. The post How Your Family Dynamic Can Affect Your Estate Planning continues, “If you infer one child is more responsible than the others (by selecting a certain child[ren] as an executor and excluding others), you risk igniting the fire of past resentments amongst the children and potentially causing resentment of you even in death.”
Goodfield has seen more than one squabble between siblings over the family cottage in his 25-year career. There are many variables involved: do all the children want to keep the cottage? Is one child in particular more capable of caring for the cottage and the property? Cottages come with annual fees and taxes; are your children financially stable enough to take on additional bills and maintenance fees?
Goodfield writes, “As a parent, you must speak to your children and determine who wants the cottage. Where more than one child wants the cottage, you have to consider whether those children have a good relationship and if they will be able to share ownership of the cottage without starting a world war. If not, do you have to consider selling the cottage in your later years to avoid creating a divisive issue amongst your children?”
To summarize, a cottage home is a beautiful legacy to leave your children. However, if, given careful thought and discussions with the whole family you are concerned that the cottage might cause more grief than gratitude, it might be time to consider selling. After all, it’s the good memories you want to remember.