You and your wife spent weeks every summer at the Delaware shore, and your three kids loved the place. Now adults with their own families, they still come bringing grandchildren and friends to your growing reunions. Of course, you assume they’ll want to continue this tradition. The thought of leaving it to them in equal shares after you’re gone makes you smile.
Wait! You forgot something. You forgot to ask them.
At the reading of the will Karen (who married money) says, “I can’t really use the beach house since I moved to California. I’d like to sell my share to one of you and get something closer to home. Who wants to buy my share?”
“Buy your share!” Joe explodes. “My business is in trouble. I need more income. I say we keep the house, rent it all summer, and use the income.” He glares at Karen.
Marianne, the youngest, is shocked at her siblings’ lack of sentiment. She loves the house and wants to spend much of the summer there. She’s a single parent and can’t afford to contribute to taxes, insurance, utilities, and yard service. So she’d like to mortgage the place and use her share of the cash to pay expenses and send her kids to college. She has a vague hope of getting a raise or a better job so she could help later with expenses and mortgage payments – but not now.
So . . . Karen sees the beach house as a California play space. Joe sees it as insurance to prop up his business. And Marianne sees it as a free vacation and college for her kids.
This kind of dilemma is very common and easily avoided. But that requires a conversation. It’s much easier to talk differences through with living parents present than in a post-mortem mediation or, worst case, a lawsuit. Sometimes the anger never goes away.
How much better if the parents had simply said, “We’re thinking of leaving you the beach house together. How might that work for you?”
Please, as you’re making your will, check out your assumptions about what your children want or need. You want to leave behind happy memories and love for each other – not a ticking time bomb.