It might come as a surprise to non-Hoosiers that several parts of Indiana are popular locations for vacation cabins. The best known are probably Brown County and the area around the Indiana Dunes. Other locales include Lake Maxinkuckee, Lake Monroe, and Lake Patoka; the Amish country and the smaller lakes of northern Indiana; the wooded hills in other parts of southern Indiana; and the small towns on the northern bank of the Ohio River. Saving the Family Cottage: A Guide to Succession Planning for your Cottage, Cabin, or Vacation Home, by Stuart J. Hollander, David S. Fry, and Rose Hollander, 4th ed., 2013, is an excellent resource for owners of family vacation homes or other property to be preserved for shared use by future generations. However, the principles are not restricted to leisure property. For example, owners of family farms will also find useful advice for keeping the farm in the family for generation after generation.
One of the central concepts of Saving the Family Cottage is to avoid problems of real property owned jointly by several individuals — a situation that, of course, can arise when property is passed from one generation to the next. When property has multiple owners, disagreements between them can result in the property being partitioned. For some types of property, such as undeveloped land, the partitioning may mean that the property is divided into multiple parcels, like cutting a pie into pieces, with each owner receiving a piece of the whole. In other cases, such as a vacation cottage, a dispute may result in the property being sold and the proceeds divided among the owners.
The authors’ primary solution to that problem — one that we and many estate planning attorneys heartily endorse — is to create a limited liability company to be owned by the family members and to transfer ownership of the property to the LLC. One reason is that transferring ownership of LLC interest from one person to another, unlike transferring ownership of real property, is generally not a matter of public record. A more compelling reason is that the law provides very few rules to govern the relationship between multiple owners of real property (or most personal property, for that matter) and very few mechanisms for resolving disputes that do not result in the termination of the joint ownership. In contrast, the flexibility of LLCs (which we have touted in this blog multiple times) permits the owners to decide in advance who will make decisions concerning the property and how they will be made and how disputes among heirs will be resolved while keeping the property in the family.