A family cottage is where you spent your formative years, swimming in the cool ocean water, learning to ride a bike, perhaps, and spending time with family.

The sale of cottages has remained fairly constant over the last five to 10 years, according to Peter Fraser, realtor.

“The number remains close to constant pretty much year over year for the past few years. There are two spikes in cottage listings, first when the season is close to opening in spring and then in the fall when people are done for the season. This year we are seeing the beginnings of consistency in that trend,” he says.

The price of cottages took a drop about two years ago and is starting to show signs of a slight recovery.

Fraser adds, “The hot market for cottage country is of course on the water, or with a good view and access to the water. The shore from pretty much Caribou Island to Malagash Point is prime with demand high in Caribou Island and the Seafoam/Tony River areas,” locally.

But what about families who have had a cottage for years and are wondering what to do with it when the time comes for estate planning?

“The family cottage is always an issue when people come to make wills because of the emotions surrounding family cottages,” explains Harry Munro, QC, who deals with estate planning. “People have happy memories at the family cottage so it’s hard for parents to decide who to give it to.”

There are various options according to Munro.

The first is give the cottage to all of the children equally.

“The problem with this is that a cottage is an expensive thing to look after when you take into account taxes, insurance costs, maintenance and utilities. It works out to be about 10 per cent of the value of the cottage each year.”

Also one person ends up with all of the responsibility in terms of upkeep and maintenance and then there’s the issue of cleanliness and standards of care.

The issue then becomes, who pays for that? Then you have to work on usage and who gets to use the cottage when.

“Generally speaking, everyone wants to be at a cottage in July and August, so who decides who goes and when and what about a child that doesn’t get to use the cottage as much as the others?”

Then there’s the issue of tension between siblings and their spouses.

Another option is creating a trust where the cottage is entrusted to one or more individuals for the benefit of a group.

“The current owners often give a sum of money to cover some of the expenses like the taxes and insurance. The trustee basically becomes the ‘boss’ of the cottage and has control over how it is used.”

In this case, the trustee would decide how the cottage is to be shared amongst the siblings, for example putting weeks in a hat and drawing them. The expenses related to occupancy would then be shared amongst the children.

“This can work quite well, but there must be a provision in the trust on how a new trustee is to be appointed in the event the trustee dies or does not want to do the job anymore,” explains Munro.

The problem with this is that every 21 years, the trust is deemed to have sold the cottage by the government and a capital gains tax is charged , 50 per cent of which is taxed as income.

“In a will, the simplest way of dealing with cottages is to say to the executor of the will, offer the cottage for sale to the children and have it appraised by a quality realtor and allow one of the children to buy it at a reduced price, say 95 per cent of the value.”
If more than one child is interested, flip a coin and the child that calls the coin toss correctly purchases the cottage. Essentially they would be buying out the other siblings so, for example, if there were three children and the value of the cottage was $180,000 the purchaser would pay $120,000, the other two shares of the cottage.

“We suggest a reduced price off of the value for the purchase price because no realtors are required because it’s family, so you take off the realtor’s commission, which is usually five per cent plus HST.”

Munro says many parents come and don’t know what to do in their wills, and it all depends on how well the siblings get along and if they all use the cottage.

As for leaving a cottage to one child, you have to consider the value of the asset and what you have to leave the other children to even things out.