The Family Vacation House #2


Last summer we discussed the Family Vacation Home.  You gave me a lot of good advice regarding how your Family handles the Family Vacation Home.  The following is an attempt to develop Best Practices.  Please comment.  (Click Here to read memo #1 on Vacation Homes).

Our experience, and that of our clients, has been that the vacation home can be the source of great family unity.  As a resident of a North Jersey suburb, I have found that the suburban home is not the one that attracts the family; it is the Summer Home.

What can the family do to make the Summer Home an enjoyable experience for all?  …And a positive force for family unity and prosperity?

The following are some of the strategies that families have used to make the Summer Home an enjoyable experience.  We will also have some of the pitfalls to avoid.  Of course, a “Best Practice” for one Family may be a “Worst Practice” for another!

Finances for the House

By far the biggest source of trouble is financial.  The best answer, of course, is to have the family matriarch and patriarch buy the house and pay for it!  If the ongoing expenses of the house are funded by parent assets, the financial burden of supporting the Vacation House is solved for the second generation!  The Vacation House can be endowed with its own funding source (as an alternative where children share expenses).  One family reported that a multi-year ledger is kept of expenses of the property with a running capital account for each child.  Many of you reported that as soon as any member of the second generation cannot support the Vacation House, then it should be sold.


The second generation will start to have their own children, and the house will fill up.  This creates the problem of scheduling.  Who is going to go to the house at different times, how many family members can they bring, can the grandchildren bring friends?  Suddenly, the house can start to get to be too small.  If the house is large enough to contain all who come, that is a blessing, but it is not usual.

It works best if the matriarch and patriarch can handle scheduling.  In families where the grandparents view scheduling as enjoyable, a way to stay in touch, then the scheduling becomes a positive.  If grandparents view scheduling as a burden because the children are disagreeing, then we have an early indication that the Vacation Home should be sold after the parents no longer use it.


The house must be maintained.  Maintenance requires both management and money.  If parents are willing to handle the maintenance management, then this works best.  The duties for the maintenance may pass to the next generation at a different time then the financial obligation to pay for the maintenance.

When the parents die, there can be significant conflict among the next generation regarding finances, scheduling and maintenance.  In the Best Practices category, family members who want to be bought out of the house, typically because they’re not using it, or cannot afford it, should be allowed to sell their share to the other family members.  The Selling Family member wants a fair price and typically is aware of creating new financial burdens on the buying remaining Family member. Certainly, the strategy is to allow conflict-free exit from the Family House.  Some families have created a capital account for each child’s share of the Vacation Home.  If a child does not want to or cannot make a capital contribution, then an adjustment is made on the Vacation Home books.  All capital accounts are then made whole upon the sale of the Vacation Home.

Several client families have had success discussing how to handle the Family Vacation Home in advance of the death of parents.  Many report significant and surprising disagreements after the parents’ death.  After all, the Vacation House is supposed to promote family unity.

If the money to support the house is the issue, then an alternative family strategy could be to endow the house, the family vacation location, with separate funding to support the house.

Want to hear a Worst Practice?  In every Family where the parents transferred the Vacation Home to the children because the parents could not afford it, the Family relationships (and the Vacation Home) deteriorated.

Have you had some strategy work (or not work) with your Family’s Vacation Home?  Please let me know.

You may forward this email to any of your Family Members or Friends who are involved with a Family Vacation Home.  We would like to be a resource to keep a Family Vacation Program going – Your Grandchildren are counting on us!

Jim Vaughan