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Cottage Joint Use Agreements – What are they, and why would you want one?

Posted on August 02, 2018 by Chris Reichert

Finally, Lake Season is here! The kids are home from school. Suits, ties, and work clothes have been replaced with shorts and sandals (with or without socks). For many of us, the weekend now means a glorious escape from the city to the family cottage. So go ahead and throw a steak on the BBQ, fly a fresh Canadian flag at the end of the dock, and cue up your favorite Tragically Hip playlist to enjoy around the fire as you watch the constellations reveal themselves, one star at a time. There is no better place on earth for most of us to unwind and reconnect with family, friends, and nature.

At least, that is how the family cottage is supposed to feel. When not managed properly, however, the cottage can just as easily become a source of stress and friction for family members. If guiding principles have not been established and expectations have become unclear, families may find themselves in increasingly awkward, confusing, and difficult interactions.  As the family grows, the complexity grows, and if the family members have not taken the time to communicate expectations with each other, conflicts are almost inevitable.

There is a fairly simple solution; as with many family challenges, this solution lies in good, honest communication.  The tough part is having the courage to start and, more importantly, finish a conversation about how the family cottage will be used.  This can be especially difficult for families who justifiably are fearful of having a conversation that could damage family relationships.  However, in our experience, not having the conversation can have disastrous, long term consequences for the family.  Having open, honest conversations about how to use the family cottage may feel uncomfortable at first.  Well, we said the solution was simple, not that it was easy.

Luckily, Blackwood Family Enterprise Services has developed a Cottage Joint Use Agreement Workbook as a tool to help guide discussions within multi-generational families regarding the family cottage. This process focuses on moving beyond compromise, to create real collaboration around how to use the family cottage. The topics covered in this document range from usage and scheduling among owners, usage by friends, renting the cottage, cleanliness standards, division of labor for maintenance and upkeep, financial obligations, and mechanisms for legal ownership.

The tool is quite in depth and the process, done properly, requires time and deep thought. We’ve found the best outcomes are achieved when each family member answers the questions on their own before getting together for a discussion to share ideas and work collaboratively.  Once a consensus has been reached within the family, we recommend engaging a lawyer to have your Joint Use Agreement form part of a larger estate plan. The Cottage Joint Use Agreement should ideally be regularly reviewed with the estate plan, to ensure it remains relevant and current with changing family circumstances.  After all, the real value is not in the document your family creates, but in the discussions your family has.  Both will ensure that your family cottage continues to be a source of connection and joy for generations to come.

If you are interested in a copy of this tool for your own use, or if you are interested in learning more about the family meetings Blackwood facilitates for multi-generational enterprising families to ensure time at the cabin remains enjoyable for a ‘long time running’ (see what I did there?), please contact me at chris@blackwoodfes.com. 

Have a great summer!

Chris Reichert

Vice-President, Blackwood Family Enterprise Services
FEX Manitoba Advisory Board