Cabins and Family Conflict

Did you know that cabins have the potential to cause more family disputes and litigation than family businesses?

Platinum’s Bill English, a Minnesota psychologist, offers insights into the impact of sibling rivalry between the family cabin and the family business:

“If you own a family business and are making plans on how to pass your business along to your kids, you’re headed in the right direction. But if you also own a cabin, be sure to plan for the passage of your cabin to your kids with equal attention to detail as you have invested in passing your family business to them. Failure to do so may result in your kids creating permanent rifts between them as they fight over the family cabin.”

Bill may be reached at Bill.English@thePlatinumGrp.com.

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I was in a meeting recently with several professionals, one of whom is a lawyer and specializes in family litigation – most of it pertaining to family businesses. He told us that cabins cause more family disputes and litigation than do family businesses. He also noted that it is probably easier to pass on a family business to the 2nd generation than it is to pass on the family cabin. It appears that a family cabin has the potential to cause more damaging disputes between siblings than a family business.

Now, if you’re not from the upper MidWest, this cabin thing may not sound like a big deal. Who cares who gets the run-down, always-needs-a-fix cabin? Well, first, most “cabins” are nice, modern, second homes on a beautiful lake, river or forested land. Secondly, for many families, it is THE place where family memories were created. As the kids grow into adult-hood, the family cabin is where each kid learns to boat, fish, camp, (perhaps) hunt, ski, swim, shoot guns, climb trees, roast marshmallows, kill mosquitos, protect the environment, split wood, bring friends, entertain guests, play games, laugh, build sand castles and perhaps, engage in a bit of teen-age romance (which mom and dad are never meant to know about).

Cabins represent memories, emotions, connections and identity. When compared to a family business, one or more of the siblings might not care all that much about inheriting or being part of the family business. They have their own lives, vocations and so forth. But they are more likely to care deeply about the family cabin and creating their own family memories and legacies in the same cabin in which they grew into adulthood.

Little wonder, then, when mom and dad die, the fight begins over who gets the cabin. “It’s one thing when mom and dad are in control. Its’ a completely different issue when mom and dad are now deceased. Sometimes you think the kids are back to being 10 years old.” (here – here too)

This is why cabins are being placed into trusts. The trusts spell out the rules on “equity, taxes, expenses, maintenance, labor, leasing/renting arrangements and responsibilities for the family cabin”. These details need to be spelled out by mom and dad before they pass because, in part, cabins tend to devour dollars, “…and when one person isn’t chipping in financially, the inequities can cause family rifts and resentment.”

How important is this? Just Google “family disputes cabin Minnesota” and you’ll get multiple pages of listings of law firms offering to help settle your most important cabin disputes. Look at several of them and you’ll find that they all are saying basically the same thing: “don’t let your family cabin destroy your family.”

If you own a family business and are making plans on how to pass your business along to your kids, you’re headed in the right direction. But if you also own a cabin, be sure to plan for the passage of your cabin to your kids with equal attention to detail as you have invested in passing your family business to them. Failure to do so may result in your kids creating permanent rifts between them as they fight over the family cabin.