June 22 – 28, 2018Vol. 20, No. 3

Saving the Family Cottage

by Martha F. Barkley

The fifth edition of this 2009 book of legal advice is out and has been generously given to our Belgrade Public Library. When you have three lawyers writing 198 pages of common sense approaches to saving the vacation spot full of family memories, it is certainly worth a look. I do not pretend to understand the many complex issues of taxes, rentals, sharing a family cottage, but the Table of Contents will guide you: "Trouble in Paradise," "Minimizing the Federal Tax Bite," "Scheduling and Use," etc.

Our Maine term for a lakeside family home is camp, not cottage. The glossary in this book had Cabbage listed with two definitions: "(1) A vacation home larger than a cabin but smaller than a cottage; (2) something that must be spent each year for the privilege of keeping a cottage." Page 31 was helpful to my understanding: "According to the most recent U.S. census data, Florida leads in the number of seasonal recreational properties with 485,000, followed by California (239,000), New York (236,000), and Michigan (235,000). Three New England states claim the highest saturation of cottages: 16% of homes in Maine are cottages, followed by 15% in Vermont, and 10% in New Hampshire."

The husband/wife lawyer authors are accompanied by a third lawyer who is a fourth-generation Michigan cottage owner. Their expertise offers many plans to consider along with an up to date website to consult.

I was struck by the reference in this informative book to John Nash, Nobel Prize Winner for game theory. His story in A Beautiful Mind was a prize winning biography and movie. "Partition Planning" apparently seems to be the worst, according to Chapter 2. Other plans provide a smooth transition from one generation to the next. The "Rabbit Problem" can almost be figured out by anyone without checking the chart on page 30.

Mal Dawson gave me the book for our Belgrade Public Library after giving away many copies to friends who wondered how to save their Maine camps. The Great Pond lakeside home of Arthur Godfrey was purchased and moved to Dawson's property on a nearby lake years ago. It was first placed 75 feet back, but then moved again when Maine regulations changed to 100 feet back from the water line. It is now their guest house.

We also experienced that 75 feet change to 100 feet from the lake, so we sold our Jamaica Point land, with a Maine Conservancy contribution. Check out this library book which is Saving the Family Cottage: A Guide to Succession Planning for Your Cottage, Cabin, Camp or Vacation Home. Thank goodness Cabbage was NOT on the book jacket!

Elk Lake is in the dedication and the three authors all have Lake Superior and Michigan roots in vacation homes. Deborah Wyatt Fellows, Founder, Traverse, Northern Michigan's Magazine, waxes poetic in her foreword:

"As is true for so many families, the cottage was the elixir that brought our family closer together. And so it is some kind of tragic irony that, when the time comes to discuss changes in ownership...sorting out the particulars can shred the same family ties that the cottage made strong.

"Those families know that as the world moves faster and faster...there will always be a need for a simple place, bathed in sunlight and solace, that quite effortlessly brings us closer together."