Photo of a Family CabinYour family cabin is often one of the most important assets in your estate plan. It's probably got generations of memories in its walls and you don't want a small lapse in judgment to take it away from your future generations. When you are a child, you spend your vacations at the cabin, spending time on a lake, doing all those fun things that make summers so memorable. And when you are young, you don't need to worry about things like who really owns the cabin and what is the plan for the cabin when Grandpa and Grandma pass away. It's a joy of childhood.

But as you get older, that issue can become an important one to deal with. Is there a long-term plan for the cabin to keep it in the family? Are there plans to sell it and do something else with the property? There are entire books on the subject of what you can do with that family cabin. However, I'm going to give you three quick things for you to think about when considering estate planning for your cabin.

3 Things To Consider

The planning that can go into a cabin's future can be extensive, but there are 3 things you want to consider:

  1. Make sure you're talking to the whole family ~ You don't want to create a plan where two or three family members never even knew what was coming. They didn't even know what was going on. They wanted to be in the family plan or, on the other side of things, maybe they live far away and it's too hard for them to get to the cabin and they just didn't want an ownership interest. Maybe they just like to come to visit sometimes.
  2. Make sure you plot out your plan for the future ~ Who's it going to? What's it going to look like in the future, who are going to be the owners, what are going to be their different roles? When the entire families has had this discussion, it can make the plan a lot simpler than simply Mom and Dad leaving a mess for the next generation to sort out.
  3. Create the plan.

From a legal standpoint, the most important question you have to figure out is how is the cabin going to be owned going forward?

Ownership of the Cabin

Just like any other piece of property, you can have different ownership structures. In the case of a family cabin, I often see three common structures:

  • Direct Ownership ~ This is a common way, let's say mom and dad own it. They can use a Transfer on Death Deed and have it automatically go to their children, or Mom and Dad own the cabin with their siblings with a right of survivorship, meaning the last sibling to be alive owns the cabin. Or you can also use direct ownership for the shares to be passed along to the next generation from their parents.
  • Using a Trust ~ A trust is going to be a little more advanced and it's going to have a lot more rigidity. It's going to have a structure to it and the trusts are going to detail what happens with the cabin and how we divide things up. But it will also make sure to keep that cabin out of the probate court so we're not going to have to worry about a court coming in and possibly selling the cabin
  • Using an LLC ~ This is a common way my clients do it. I think it's a great way if you're renting out your property is to put the property into an LLC. So you're creating a business an LLC, that will be the owner of the property. One of the primary advantages of this is that it can eliminate liability, so if somebody rents the property and is injured and sues the owners, they're not able to go after your personal assets. They're suing the LLC, and the assets of the LLC are usually going to be limited to the assets of the LLC (the property it owns). Another benefit of the LLC is that you can protect your name and privacy if that's something you're concerned about. You can take that rent that comes in and use that money to reinvest into the property without showing up on your tax return. And then of course, at the end of the day, it's a great way to this asset out of probate court. So rather than having individuals own this property when somebody dies, the probate court has distributed the LLC will have provisions about what happens when an LLC member dies, and what are the next steps. So you can just have that LLC membership being inherited from different members of the family, as opposed to having to go into the probate court if somebody dies.

Next Steps

If you're ready to discuss some options for your family cabin and how it should be a part of your estate plan, let's set up a Legal Strategy Session to discuss the best next steps for you and your family.

Andrew Ayers
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I work with business and estate planning clients to craft legal solutions to protect their legacies.
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