How Should I Own a Vacation Home?

Ownership of The Family Vacation Home

Estate Planning Summer Series

So, you’ve picked a location and decided to purchase that vacation home that you have long imagined owning and being the center of many wonderful family memories.  Let’s assume that the family has discussed the issues discussed in our first article – Home Sweet Vacation Home.  Now the big question is, how should you own the property?

Depending on your goals, there are different ways in which you can own a vacation home.  The reasons for, and the pros and cons of owning the vacation home in one of the following different structures, are as different as vacation homes themselves.  There is no one size fits all when it comes to ownership of a vacation home.  There are, however, some general issues concerning each structure.  Here are just a few considerations:

1.              Ownership as individuals or as co-tenants.  This is perhaps the most common and “easiest” form of ownership.  By “easiest” I mean that it is easy for you as an individual, or as husband and wife, to simply have your name(s) on the deed as owner.  Most people own their primary home in this manner, so they simply assume that a vacation home should be owned the same way.  During your life, owning a vacation home outright is straightforward.  If you have children who you want to own and enjoy the vacation home after your death, however, this form of ownership can be a problem.  Each child would be a co-owner with each of his or her sibling.  Their ability to reach a consensus over issues such as who can use the home, when can each child use the home, or who will pay for ongoing maintenance and expenses, becomes more difficult.  One child may not be able to afford the vacation home and would rather have the cash to pay for other expenses or needs.  If agreement cannot be reached amongst your children, one could have the courts force a sale of the property.

2.              Trusts.  A trust is legal agreement which governs who will be able to use family vacation home and how they can use it.  The trust agreement can spell out how and when a child’s interest in the home can be transferred.  The vacation home can also be protected if a child owner faces creditor issues, divorce or other liability.  You can also set aside funds in the trust to cover future expenses, thereby relieving your children from that responsibility.  You name a trustee to make decisions concerning the vacation home and to oversee the property’s management. 

There are some considerations for owning a vacation home in a trust.  Issues such as who will serve as trustee and how that person can be replaced if necessary must be addressed in the trust and amongst the family.  Also, a trust can be less flexible and difficult to amend without court intervention if family circumstances change. 

There are many different types of trusts that can be used in vacation home ownership.  The type of trust depends on the family’s unique situation and goals.  Two more common types of trusts we see with respect to vacation homes are the simpler revocable living trust and more complex Qualified Personal Residence Trust (QPRT).  Each trust serves similar and at times entirely different purposes and should be discussed with your estate planning attorney.

3.              Limited Liability Company (LLC).  Perhaps the most efficient and preferred method of vacation home ownership is through a limited liability company (LLC).  An LLC is a business structure made up of members.  Each member owns shares of the LLC.  A thorough and properly drafted operating agreement between the members would govern the ownership and management of the property.  The operating agreement is easy to amend if your family’s situation changes.  Likewise, membership interests can be easily transferred.  Finally, especially if you consider renting the vacation home, an LLC can provide your children with personal liability protection against claims by someone who may be injured on the property, other creditors or claims of another member’s divorcing spouse. 

Whatever form of ownership you decide upon, it should be based on your goals for the vacation property.  An open and honest discussion between you and your children, especially if it is your intent to have the home remain in the family for generations after your death, is essential.  Only after coming to an understanding with your loved ones, can your estate planning attorney put the right plan in place.


Home Sweet Vacation Home

Estate Planning Summer Series

So you Want to Own a Family Vacation Home

Summer is in full swing and we are about to embark on another trip to the beautiful state of Maine.  Our last family trip to the region in 2014 was nothing short of amazing.  As is usually the case when we visit a beautiful location, my wife and I end up discussing a vacation home purchase.  Like many people, we envision a treasured family home where we can gather with our children, and someday their children.  Because I do not think that my wife and I are alone in this vision, and that many of you have, or would like to have, a vacation property, I wanted to take this opportunity to discuss some important legal concerns involving vacation properties.

A vacation home is unlike any other property.  Few assets can bring a family together like a vacation home.  Whether it’s a beach house on the east end of Long Island, a ski house in Vermont, or a rustic cabin in Maine, a family vacation home can be the source to lifelong joyful memories.  Most people envision the vacation property remaining in the family and being passed on from generation to generation for everyone to enjoy.  Seems simple enough.

Unfortunately, if certain issues are not addressed upfront, that same vacation property which was meant to bring the family together, can be the source of conflict and not such great memories.  If not addressed at the beginning, unique issues involving vacation homes can lead to disputes amongst children, legal bills, and even the loss of the property.  Certainly nothing that was envisioned by you when purchasing that dream property.  As an estate planning attorney, it is my goal to help families avoid or minimize such problems.  So, let’s take a look at some considerations when owning a vacation property.

Considerations in Owning a Vacation Home

People often get caught up in the emotion of purchasing and owning a vacation home.  That’s what makes owning a vacation home so much fun.  If you are interested in owning a family vacation home, however, you can not overlook some realities:

*  A vacation home is a valuable asset that must be protected;

*  There are ongoing costs and potential liabilities which must be planned for;

*  If there are multiple family members who own the property there will be issues over who can use the property when.

*  In order to address those realities, and others, the family should ask themselves the following questions:

*  What is the real purpose for buying the vacation home?

*  Who is going to own the property?

*  Is each owner going to have an equal share of the property?

*  Who will be responsible for costs, maintenance and upkeep of the property?

*  Is the vacation home going to be in the same state where you live or in a different state?

*  Do you intend to rent the home?

*  What if a co-owner can no longer afford the home or simply doesn’t want to own it any longer?

*  Do you plan on selling the property after your death or have the property pass to your children?

*  How can you make sure that those who inherit the vacation home are in the best position to enjoy the home as you intended?

These are just some of the questions which should be considered.  If you already own a treasured vacation home, have you asked yourself any of those questions?  Whether you are just starting out on this wonderful experience of owning a vacation home or have had one in the family for decades, remember, it is never to late to address such issues. 

In the next segment, we will address the different ways in which the family vacation home can be owned.

What Should I Include in My Estate Plan?

Estate planning is important for people of all ages, but as we age, the need for planning becomes even more critical. Many people avoid estate planning, because they do not want to think about the end of life, failing health or disability. Others believe that an estate plan is only for rich people. However, an estate plan is helpful for the senior adult and their families regardless of overall wealth.

The estate is all the property owned both individually and jointly, including bank accounts, real estate, jewelry, etc., and what is owed. Without an estate plan, it is very difficult to carry out a person’s wishes and can bring on a long, drawn out probate that can be very expensive for the family. If an estate plan is in place, it can provide peace of mind for the senior adult and their family, as well as protection for the wishes of the senior.

Below are some basic guidelines for what should be included in an estate plan.

1. Will.  A will provides for an executor of the estate, who will take care of managing the estate, paying debts, and distributing property as specified. The distribution of assets can be outlined in the will. This can be as broad or detailed as a person wishes. In a will, beneficiaries and guardians for minor children should be assigned. It may not seem necessary to discuss minor children when discussing seniors and estate planning, but with the rise of grandparents raising grandchildren, this may indeed be an important part of the will. A senior adult can spell out, in the will, how they want their funeral and burial to be carried out as well.

2. Living Will. A living will outlines a senior’s wishes for end of life medical care. It can include, in as much detail as the senior wishes, what medical treatments the senior would or would not like to have in specific situations. A living will takes the stress of making those decisions off of family members and helps to keep peace in families during times that can be difficult and emotional.

3. Healthcare Power of Attorney. A healthcare power of attorney is also a key part of an estate plan. This legal document provides for someone to legally make healthcare decisions for a senior adult. A durable power of attorney will remain in effect for the senior if the senior becomes unable to make decisions.

 4. Financial Power of Attorney. A financial power of attorney names an agent who has the power to act in the place of the senior adult for matters relating to finances. The durable financial power of attorney stays in effect if the senior adult becomes unable to handle their affairs. By having a financial power of attorney in place, the stress and expense of a guardianship can be avoided, and the senior has the final say in who will make decisions relating to finances.

5. Trust. Setting up a trust can be beneficial for the distribution of specific assets or pieces of property. The benefit of a trust is that it does not go through probate, as compared to a will. Property is still distributed at the death of the trustmaker, but it is done without the need of a court.  This also allows for privacy of the trustmaker, where with a will and a probate, all of the deceased person’s assets and the the terms of their will is made public.

Having an estate plan is necessary if you or your senior loved one wishes to have a say in what happens in the end of life and with assets after death. Consulting and planning with an elder law attorney will help to ensure that all options are explored and the best possible solution is utilized. The elder law attorney can walk you through all of the necessary parts of the estate plan, provide explanation, and prepare the paperwork. Elder law attorneys will help take the guesswork out of estate planning.

If you have any questions about something you have read or would like additional information, please feel free to contact us.

What Do Elder Law Attorneys Do?

An elder law attorney is an attorney who specializes not on a specific area of the law, but on the legal needs of elderly people, veterans, and adults with special needs. Elder law is a specialization that has only been around for about twenty-five years and was born out of necessity. With life expectancy increasing, people are dealing with rising health care costs and increase in debilitating diseases like dementia, among many issues that affect the aging members of our society.

An elder law attorney can help the elderly, disabled, and veterans in many ways. They can provide their clients with guidance and advice in many areas. Elder law attorneys also have expertise in preparing legal documents and forms for their clients, as well as providing support for clients who are completing and filing forms with the government. A major role that elder law attorneys fill for their clients is that of an educator. They often gather information and resources for their clients to educate them and guide them in their decision-making. This is a very valuable service for clients, because the elder law attorney has expertise and resources that may benefit the client, their family, and their future.

Estate planning can be a daunting task for many people. There are so many things to consider, but an elder law attorney is there to guide, educate, and walk their clients through the process. They see the estate plan through both during life and after death. With estate planning, an elder law attorney can walk the client through writing a will. They can also help with paperwork for assigning powers of attorney. Many people often discuss power of attorney, singular, but there are actually multiple types of powers of attorney. An elder law attorney can help the client decide which powers of attorney are needed in their situation. The elder law attorney works with trust administration for the elderly, veterans, and special needs trusts for special needs adults.

Elder law attorneys are there to help their clients plan for the future. Unfortunately, many illnesses can change physical and mental health during the later years. In many cases, people may become unable to make their own decisions about care or in the case of adults with special needs their parents may become unable to continue caring for them. The elder law attorney is there to make sure that if or when this happens, the wishes of the client are carried out. They can help with advance directives for healthcare, guardianship paperwork for making sure a trusted caregiver can make healthcare decisions, and conservatorship for making sure a trusted person can manage affairs such as finances. Planning for incapacity or long-term care is very important. An elder law attorney is an invaluable resource for helping with nursing homes, Medicaid and Medicare, and Social Security. They are there to assist and protect the rights of their clients.

In addition, elder law attorneys help veterans to obtain the benefits they are entitled to. They can fight for the veteran and help guide them on benefits that are available. The elder law attorney can also help veterans, elders, and special needs people and their families to fight abuse and fraud. All of these groups are targets for scams and elders and adults with special needs at times find themselves in situations where they are abused or exploited. It is important for the clients and their families to know they can turn to an elder law attorney for help in finding justice in these situations. Finally, an elder law attorney can be an excellent mediator in helping to sort out complicated family and financial situations.

Our office handles elder law cases and would be happy to set up a time to discuss your particular situation and how we can help.