“Too many parents make life hard for their children by trying, too zealously, to make it easy for them.” So said the 18th-century German statesman and author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

While his thought may be true, I often find the opposite occurring when it comes to estate planning. Because parents are often not open with their adult children about their parental intentions, or worse, because they want the kids to figure it out, chaos may ensue. Let’s look at a true Minnesota example. 

The family cabin tends to be a lightning rod for inheritance issues for a host of reasons. The cabin is not just a structure; it is an archive of fond memories. Unfortunately, when the cabin is left to the children, new memories are created that are usually not so fond.

If you are thinking of bequeathing the cabin to the kids, here is a simple question to ask yourself: If your children did not already own a cabin, would they purchase one together? If the answer is no, then it is time to get realistic.

It doesn’t matter if you have set money aside to fund the operations of the cabin, because the children still need to figure out who is going to be responsible for what. Resentment can often build around usage and upkeep. Throw in decisions about boats and improvements and you are virtually guaranteeing problems.

It isn’t just the children who would receive this inheritance; it is also their partners. While you may designate the cabin to pass directly only to descendants, the partners will still be participating in the use, maintenance and improvements of the cabin. This creates additional potential conflicts.

There may not be enough assets for one of the children to keep the cabin (and often the most sentimental kid is the one who can least afford to do so) and buy out the other siblings. If this is the case, recognize that your decision to hold onto the property is most likely not going to end well. While it may be your dream to keep the kids together through their using the cabin, it often turns out to be the children’s nightmare.

It is time to talk. This is a personal and emotional decision, so call a family meeting to discuss your intentions. First, let the kids know that if you don’t sell the cabin before you die, that you give them permission to do so. Unless you are trying to avoid significant capital gains, consider selling the cabin before you die. If one of the kids desperately wants it and can afford it, there are a variety of ways to finance the sale.

Keeping the cabin may do many things for your children, but it won’t make things easy for them.


Ross Levin is chief executive and founder of Accredited Investors Wealth Management in Edina.