Cottage Planning - It's About the Memories

Cottage Planning - It's About the Memories

Families Preserve Their Best Memories of the Family Cottage Through Succession Planning

Spring triggers the annual migration of cottage/cabin owners back to their summer homes after the long, cold winter – or, for those more fortunate, spending time at warm climate retreats. Spring also brings the excitement and anticipation for a new season of warm, muggy nights, fishing, watersports, campfires, and the constant coming and going of family members and guests at the family cottage.

As I reflect on the start of another summer season fresh with new inquiries about cottage law matters such as ways to protect and plan for the future of many family cottages, several interesting experiences come to mind. It occurred to me that rarely do clients seek my help out of financial motivation; it’s always about the deep affection they have for their summer home, and the special memories of the experiences that occur there.

A Swing, a Screen Door and a Sun Porch

A few of the many stories and special memories relayed by clients stand out for me. One client showed me a large oak tree in the side yard of his family’s cottage, which had a peculiar pronounced branch protruding about halfway up the trunk. The branches below it had been trimmed over the years, and a good many branches above it were trimmed toward the top of the trunk at the tree canopy. A tire swing on a chain hung from the branch. The chain was imbedded into the branch, and the tree had grown over the chain so it went into one side of the branch and exited the other side. The client told me that the swing had been there when he was a child, and that he and his cousins had played on it just as his children, grandchildren and now great-grandchildren were playing there. The tire had been replaced, but the chain hung by my client’s father had remained to the extent that it was now engulfed all around by the tree branch that supported the chain for more than 75 years.

Another client showed me a screen door on the front porch of his cottage. He showed me the dent in the door that had been painted over several times that was caused by my client’s head one summer long ago, when his brother pushed him into the door as the two were wrestling on the front porch. He then promptly showed me the scar on his head from the six stitches he received as a result of the altercation.

Yet another client related her memories of sitting on a beautiful sun porch on her family’s cottage in Western Michigan and listening to family members and guests visit and tell stories of their experiences. One of the family’s more famous visitors who spent time on that porch was President Gerald R. Ford, who was a close friend of the client’s father and visited the cottage for a summer weekend shortly before becoming Vice President. She had the pictures to prove it!

These are just a few of the many stories told to me over my career in assisting families with their cottage law matters – specifically, planning for the protection and continued use and enjoyment of their family cottages by themselves and future generations.

Good Planning Can Keep “Family” in the Family Cottage

The clients above not only shared a deep affection for their family cottages, they also shared a desire that the property remain as a place where future generations could gather and create their own memories. A client one time shared an astute observation that although a cottage is just a place, it’s the people coming to that place that makes it special. Perhaps we all have experienced a great moment with our families when we were outside of our day-to-day environment, relaxing and just enjoying a special place and times with each other.

Upcoming Articles on Cottage Planning Strategy

Over the next several weeks, I will provide information to consider when planning to protect your family cottage. This information will include factors to consider with respect to the management, payment of expenses, usage and transfers of ownership of the family cottage. In the meantime, enjoy the annual spring ritual of opening the family cottage for another memorable summer season.