Important Questions to Ask When Investing in a Vacation Property
According to the National Association of Home Builders, in 2018, there were approximately 7.5 million second homes, making up 5.5 percent of the total number of homes. When it comes to estate planning, vacation homes can present unique challenges. In many cases, vacation homes are passed down through generations, becoming an heirloom. However, if the ownership of the property is not clearly defined, it can cause problems for future generations. If you own a vacation home, it is essential to take steps to ensure that your wishes are fulfilled after your death.
What Will Happen to the Property at Your Death?
The fate of your vacation property at your death largely depends on how it is currently owned. If you are the property’s sole owner or if you own it as a tenant in common with one or more other people, you need to decide what will happen to your interest in the property. If you own the property with another person as joint tenants with rights of survivorship or with a spouse as tenants by the entirety, your interest will automatically transfer to the remaining owner without court involvement. If a trust or limited liability company owns your vacation property, the entity will continue to own the property after your death. The trust instrument or operating agreement may lay out additional instructions about what will happen at your death.
What Do You Want to Happen to the Property at Your Death?
The wonderful thing about proactively creating an estate plan is that you get to choose, in a legally binding way, what happens to your money and property. It is important to note that, if you do not create a plan for your property (and if it is not owned in joint tenancy with right of survivorship or tenancy by the entirety), your state will decide for you according to its laws and by putting your loved ones through the probate process. Probate is the court-supervised process that winds up your affairs and distributes your money and property to the appropriate people. It is also important to note that owning property in a different state from where you reside could lead to your loved ones having to open two probates (one in the state where you resided at death and one where the vacation property is located). There are several different options for handling your vacation property.
Can Your Beneficiary Afford the Vacation Property?
While there may be a lot of happy memories associated with your vacation property, you know that there are also a lot of responsibilities. When you decide to leave your property outright to a person or group of people, they will become responsible for financial obligations such as mortgage payments (if any), utility bills, and property insurance and taxes. If you wish your beneficiary to keep the property, you need to consider whether they can meet the financial obligations; if not, they may end up prematurely selling it.
If More than One Person Will Have an Interest in the Property, Do They All Get Along?
All your children may get along now, but will they still be able to come together and see eye to eye when you are no longer living? Owning property together means that they need to be able to communicate, agree, and equally contribute to the property’s maintenance. A proper estate plan can address these potential issues by outlining
What Should You Do to Make Your Wish a Reality?
First, you need to legally document your wishes to ensure that your loved ones know what your wishes are, that they will be followed, and that all possible scenarios have been planned for. Second, if you have concerns about your beneficiaries being able to financially maintain the property, you need to meet with a financial advisor to design a plan that allows you to set aside money for its maintenance. Also, you need to meet with an insurance agent to make sure that the property is properly insured based on its intended use and to acquire additional life insurance in case you need another source of financial liquidity for its maintenance. Finally, you should meet with your tax adviser to make sure that you know of any potential tax consequences of transferring the vacation property, whether during your lifetime or at your death.
If you are interested in learning more about your options for protecting your vacation property and having your wishes for it carried out, please contact us.
 Na Zhao, Nation’s Stock of Second Homes, National Assoc. of Home Builders Discusses Economics and Housing Policy, Eye on Housing (Oct. 16, 2020), https://eyeonhousing.org/2020/10/nations-stock-of-second-homes-2/).