My father grew up playing in that same lake since he was a baby, circa 1947. That actually is ancient.
Sorry, Dad. The numbers don’t lie. You’re old - or at least older. As I’ve been known to say you’re not really old until you’re 100 like Granddad. My maternal grandfather lived to be 101. As far as I can tell, I figure you have nearly 30 years to live.
No matter how many days you or I have left let’s live them to the fullest. Carpe Diem!
Having places like “The Lake” to go to are so precious. They enable living life to the fullest, fostering fond memories like mine with Poppy.
If you’re fortunate like us to have one like it - whether it’s a condo or a lake house or a cabin in the mountains - you know it is a priceless treasure. It would be impossible to quantify the memories.
Until that day comes when you do have to place a value on it.
That brings us back to that sad day in 2012 when Poppy passed at age 95.
My grandmother, Mimi, had passed earlier in 2012, so the camp became co-owned by my father and his sister, my aunt. They have cooperated amicably ever since and everything is running smoothly to this day. My family, my sister's family and those of my cousins are the beneficiaries of their excellent management of the camp. I am so grateful.
With any house there are of course expenses. Expenses like taxes and repairs are split 50/50 between them. My generation, which includes my family, my sister’s and my two cousins’ families, are basically their guests when we visit. We chip in by helping with projects around the camp when we’re there but they take care of the big ticket expenses.
You see, we (or they, for the time being) do have to quantify the memories. The camp, the lake house that’s been in the family for basically 100 years, isn’t free to operate. Those expenses won’t pay for themselves. There’s no tax fairy that magically makes the taxes disappear.
A topic of discussion during my time at The Lake this past summer was What will it look like for the four of us, the next generation, to take ownership one day? How will we split those expenses?
It could happen like this: no one discusses the numbers, the expenses, but everyone still wants to spend time at The Lake with their respective families. And it all just happily works out forever.
But that’s wishful thinking, pie in the sky. Cake in the lake?
The reality is that life happens.
Our neighbors at The Lake, who happen to be my second cousins, and my kids’ third cousins, have started to experience just that.
Sadly, one of my father’s cousins died several years ago. The remaining three siblings who shared ownership bought out the spouse of the sister who had passed.
Another sibling built his own place on the other side of The Lake and they bought him out as well.
But by all accounts it was not easy.
No numbers or procedures for doing these buyouts were in place. No financial structures were in place to facilitate payment of expenses. These were weaknesses. They were overcome but not without emotional hardship, which could have been avoided.
As a blog about numbers, namely Strength in Numbers, that’s what I’m getting at here. We need to have Strength in Numbers so that these treasured vacation homes stay that way - treasured for the memories they foster.
But without a plan in place that spells out clearly who is responsible for what, and how buyouts work, you don’t have that. And the once treasured vacation home becomes a source of financial stress, taking an emotional toll on the co-owners.
So how do we get this Strength in Numbers? How do we create this Strength in Numbers? How do we avoid the financial and emotional stress of figuring all this out?
It should happen like this:
First, you put a plan in place. Perhaps that means obtaining a real estate lawyer to help draw up a trust that dictates mutually-agreed upon procedures for buyouts. Exact steps for valuing the property could be laid out so there's no room for argument when it comes to deciding who pays who what. Perhaps that means using that legal expert to establish a communally-funded account that covers the expenses.
Second, you create a “payment plan” that spells out clearly the amount that each family is responsible for paying into that communally-funded account. One way is to consider variables like “body nights” as one cousin put it. Call up the nerd in the family to create a spreadsheet.
If Family A has two adults and three children and they stay for ten days that’s 50 body nights. If Family B has one adult and two children and they stay for 14 days, then that’s 42 body nights. Family C with two adults and two children staying for just two nights makes 8 body nights. Let’s say that Family D doesn’t visit this particular year, so zero body nights.
In this sample year there’s 100 body nights, so based on usage and wear and tear, it could be argued that Family A with 50 body nights should pay 50% of the operating costs for the given year. An Alternative would be that Family A is simply responsible for 25% because there are four families. But is that fair? Should Family D be responsible for any since they didn’t use it? Perhaps there's a blended compromise that says each of 4 heirs are responsible for one-fourth of, say, 50% of the taxes and other annual expenses, while the remaining 50% plus operating expenses are divvied up based on usage (body nights). Whether it is something like this, what is your pre-planned, prescribed procedure that spells out how costs are shared?
These are the questions that the co-owners can and should discuss and decide on so that future generations avoid legal and financial feuds.
For my family for now it’s just my father and his sister. They’ve got it all figured out. They have a high level of trust and strength of relationship that greases the wheel of a 50/50 split of expenses. The wheel keeps on spinning as the years pass.
But there will come a day when it is not just the two siblings but the four cousins or later on down the road, the 11 grandchildren. It is shortsighted to say with rose-colored glasses that, as much as I love my cousins, there won’t be some question how we split the costs and how we manage the camp.
We have the opportunity to establish a Strength in Planning Numbers, this financial and structural legacy, for those that will come after us so that they know exactly how this works.
My hope is that your family and mine establish Strength in Numbers by putting into place legal structures and financial plans, so that your grandchildren and mine play catch in The Lake with a wet tennis ball with their grandchildren without having to worry about a thing.
Mark B. Anderson
Tutor & Founder, Strength in Numbers Tutoring