Key Takeaway! Passing on the family cabin may not be as romantic as it sounds. Sometimes the result isn’t fond memories, but rather rifts in relationships. Instead of leaving the cabin as part of their legacy, parents can instead sell it and let the next generation create its own family traditions.
Summer and cabins go together. Cabins are an enjoyable escape because we get more time with loved ones at a slower pace, enjoying nature and the lake—whether boating, swimming or listening to the sound of the water on the shore or maybe even the call of a loon. Many vivid memories are made during cabin time, and for families, the time serves as a necessary reset to the busy pace of keeping up with jobs, activities and daily life.
The Generational Issues
Often the first generation has a strong desire to pass down the family cabin as part of a legacy. But when that generation passes away, the memories can get diluted since the next, bigger, generation has conflicting priorities. Maybe one sibling still loves time at the cabin but can’t afford their share of the expenses, while another sibling finds that the cabin is no longer a meaningful memory-making haven now that their parents are gone. And even if that sibling wants to sell their share, their brothers and sisters may not be able to afford to buy them out or can’t agree on a valuation.
Even if the parents had thought ahead and set aside five years of expenses, conflict can still arise over who uses the cabin more. Maybe one sibling’s family has greater work commitments and more kids’ activities, while another family may have the luxury of a stay-at-home parent and a less scheduled summer and can thus take better advantage of cabin time. Depending on the strength of familial relationships before the parents passed away, rifts can form over who is benefiting more from “family” assets.
Some families have enough wealth that a cabin can be placed in trust with assets to take care of ongoing maintenance and other expenses, but even then, it can be hard to manage who gets what weekends or weeks at the cabin over the course of a summer. And ultimately, as more generations are born, the family gets bigger, becomes more disconnected and has competing priorities, especially if there are other cabins to enjoy, like a spouse’s family cabin or a dear friend’s lake place. Eventually, you have generations that have moved on to other traditions at other cabins and lakes who never get to benefit from the “family legacy asset”—especially as communication rifts break down family relationships.
Even if there’s just one child that a cabin would be passed on to, that child may not feel like they can say no to their parents if they do not want the cabin, and they may feel frustrated by the burden of cleaning out and selling the property after their parents pass away. If they are busy professionals with children of their own, knowing that a parent had the time and energy to clean out and sell the cabin but instead chose to pass that burden on could taint the memories of what the cabin meant.
A Change in Direction
One option is to think of the family cabin differently—as a place where memories are made for a defined period of time with a particular group of people. Then, at some point, it actually makes sense to sell the family cabin and let the memories live on as a joyful legacy. This shift replaces the burden that ownership can bring with multiple owners with different interests and abilities to pay for ongoing maintenance, to say nothing of remodels or boat replacements. It actually forces members of the next generation to start creating their own family traditions, which is a necessary step for the growth of any family.
This also requires an ability on the parents’ part to be honest and realistic about who their family is—what is the actual trajectory of their children’s lives? While difficult, it helps parents to avoid making decisions from a romantic notion of how their children’s lives could ideally look if they lived like mom and dad.
The idea of not passing on your cabin might seem like heresy in Minnesota or Wisconsin, where cabin time is sacred. There are cabins here that have been in families for generations. But if you’ve been wondering about the legacy a family cabin would actually leave and have struggled to imagine how to bring it up with your family—children or parents—maybe this can serve as a helpful tool to start an important conversation.
I have found that when generations are thoughtful and communicate openly, they generally are more on the same page than they thought, and usually everyone ends up feeling a greater sense of relief. With honest and open communication, the best outcome for the family and the cabin can be achieved before family memories and relationships become tainted.
The opinion of the author is subject to change without notice and must be considered in conjunction with relevant regulation, as well as subsequent changes in the marketplace. Any information from outside resources has been deemed to be reliable but has not necessarily been verified. Each individual has unique circumstances to which this information may or may not be relevant. Under no circumstances will this information constitute an offer to buy or sell and it does not indicate strategy suitability for any particular investor.