Family Cottage

My grandparents had a cottage.  My grandparents intended to give the camp to their three kids.  However, Aunt and Uncle didn’t want it, so when Grampa died, Nana gave Aunt and Uncle some money and gave the camp to Dad.  Aunt and Uncle acknowledged the money in a letter and confirmed that they no had no rights in the camp.

Dad wanted the camp for me and my three sisters and “gave” it to us.  However, I was the only one to go to the camp with any regularity and I was doing all the work.  One sister and I paid all the bills.  We had an expense register to track the expenses.  I was getting fed up with doing all the work and the camp needed a lot of TLC and dollars to stay standing. 

Some years ago, I approached my sisters and said that I (and my wife) would like to have the cottage.  While they did not really want to give up the camp, they realized that it would be best for the camp if one person owned it and maintained it.  I paid my one sister for what she had put into the camp. 

At that point, my grandfather had been dead a dozen years and the property was still in his name.  My grandmother was still alive and we hired a lawyer to do the transaction from her to us. 

This situation exemplifies the potential for problems with the family cottage.  It also demonstrates certain things done right and others not so right.

First of all, kudos to Nana for getting Aunt and Uncle to acknowledge in writing that they no longer had an interest in the camp.  However, the property should have been transferred into her name on Grampa’s death.  Further, if Dad was holding the camp in trust for us (we weren’t all of the age of majority when Grampa died), it should have been noted that way on title.  As there was nothing to show that the property was being held in trust for the kids, if Nana (or Dad) had money problems, there was a risk that the camp could be available for creditors.  Further, if the property appreciated a lot in value, there was a looming tax problem. 

Ours was a typical situation where the siblings did not contribute equally in time and money to maintain the property.  It was becoming a sore spot.  I sure wasn’t going to invest the money for major renovations if my sisters were not going to pay their share.  The camp was at risk of serious deterioration without it.  We should have had a co-ownership agreement.

It was smart of us to have an expense register.  I was pretty lucky that my sisters agreed with my request.  What if they had not?  What if they insisted on keeping their interest in the camp, but paid nothing – not even the taxes? 

I was lucky.  If you have a family cottage, don’t bet on being lucky unless you are prepared to lose the bet. 

Ian Johncox, Civil Litigation/Employment Lawyer/Mediator

Ian Johncox, Civil Litigation/Employment Lawyer/Mediator

Ian practices in the areas of employment law, occupier liability defence, franchise litigation and contract litigation. Ian is a trained mediator and conducts mediations in a wide range of civil (non-family) cases. His employment law practice includes acting for employers and employees, which gives him a balanced perspective to his clients’ issues.

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