Will the family cabin bring your kids together – or tear them apart?

By May 1, 2014 March 4th, 2020 No Comments

Summer weather has arrived in Seattle (at least temporarily), and as always, the fabulous weather in the city leads to thoughts of fun things to do out of the city. Another reason for my thoughts to drift toward vacation plans: Washington State Highway 20, my favorite gateway to cabin destinations in the North Cascades opened last week. Last summer, mudslides buried Highway 20 near Rainy Pass, blocking the short summertime route from Seattle to the Methow Valley. My family doesn’t have the good fortune of owning a cabin there, but if we did, traveling to our idyllic mountain getaway would have become a bit of an unexpected hassle for the rest of the summer. ​

Family cabins have a way of being both a blessing — and a headache. Sepia-toned memories of campfires and sunset horseplay in the lake are often tempered by those of the time the septic system failed.  And then there is the question of who, exactly, owns the family cabin – and who will assume ownership in the next generation.

Seattle attorney Wendy Goffe published a superb guest post on about how families can avoid common pitfalls in transferring ownership of the family cabin from one generation to the next. The post is a worthwhile read with sound advice, despite its use of the much-analyzed will of Soprano’s star James Gandolfini and his much-critiqued gift of his Italian villa to his kids, as the entrée into its real topic: How to talk with your family about who gets the cabin. 

Giving the cabin outright to the kids in equal shares, as Gandolfini did with his Italian getaway his will, may seem to be the simplest way to keep the cabin in the family – and keep the family in the cabin. However, simple plans have ways of unraveling in unexpected twists and knots. Not all the kids might want the cabin – where some remember fireflies, others remember only swimmer’s itch and swarms of biting flies. Others simply won’t be able to afford their share of the cost of maintaining it – or they’d rather spend their discretionary income and vacation time scuba diving in Aruba than make a five-hour trek to Mosquito Lake.

How will you know where your kids fall on the spectrum? You need to sit down with them and have an honest conversation about what role they see the cabin playing in their future. Once everybody is on the same page, you can move on to a discussion of what type of ownership arrangement or estate planning tool will best fit what you want to happen to the cabin – and avoid surprises or conflict. Then, you can get back to planning the best summer vacation ever. 


This post is for informational purposes and does not contain or convey legal advice. The information herein should not be used or relied upon in regard to any particular facts or circumstances without first consulting with an attorney.

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