Tempted by Legal Templates
October 1, 2006
Is there a guide or a template I could use to draw up a contract for multiple owners of a vacation home? |
– Steve Toth, via e-mail
A: Such legal forms are available, but not advisable. Cabin ownership may seem simple, but the devil is in the details of responsibilities and rights – not to mention the inherent emotional attachments people have for vacation homes (and sentimentalism can seriously inhibit group decision-making).
While many people enter into joint ownership in a generous mood of all-for-one esprit de corps, ill will can result from conflicts, sometimes killing friendships and poisoning family relationships.
The common disputes that arise from joint ownership come from three main categories: money, maintenance and scheduling. Someone always feels like they are paying more for upkeep and repairs, someone always feels that they are doing more of the heavy lifting when it comes to chores, and everyone wants to use the vacation home for the big weekends like Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day. So, although you can easily find templates for do-it-yourself contracts online, sharing property is too complicated to do without specific legal training. You would do better to hire a lawyer.
The lawyer you consult will lay out the different kinds of legal arrangements for sharing your property. For instance: joint tenancy, tenancy in common, limited liability company (LLC), irrevocable trust, among others. John Bartosz, a retired estate attorney with a cabin in Lac du Flambeau, Wis., has seen enough families torn apart by sharing cabins that he cautions strongly against the whole concept of group ownership itself. But acknowledging that skyrocketing property values are making it harder for many single parties to own vacation homes, Bartosz says legal counsel for everyone planning to enter into group ownership of a cabin is absolutely imperative.
“States differ so much,” Bartosz says, “that a local attorney familiar with real estate MUST be consulted and should be the person to work out the details.” Such details might include splitting costs, assigning responsibility for damages and assigning a single person to handle bills, utilities, taxes, maintenance and comprehensive home-owner insurance.
Other considerations would be provisions for buy-outs of co-owners, inheritance, sales of shares and so on. Bartosz warns not to overlook details about boats, moorings, docks, ATVs, snowmobiles, seasonal equipment – and the storage of all those. Storage buildings themselves present even more concerns.
After everything he’s witnessed between people sharing a vacation home, he warns, “Get it in writing.”