Play nice: Sharing cottage ownership with siblings

Cottage ownership is the dream for a lot of Canadians. For those of you who grew up with a family cottage – you scored! What happens to the cottage, though, when Mom & Dad want to sell due to advancing age, or when they die? If you’re an only child, no worries! You can stop reading. If, however, you have one or more siblings, this becomes extremely complicated. Do you all buy the cottage from your parents or the estate? If so, how do you share expenses? How do you divvy up the time at the cabin? What about in-laws, out-laws, and grandchildren? Maintenance? Property taxes (usually higher than primary residences)?

Luckily for you, author and shared cottage owner, Nikki Koski has already thought about these questions and wrote a book of answers: Cottage Rules: Owner’s Guide to Sharing Recreational PropertyThis book review originally ran in the Toronto Star on July 22, 2011.

Cottage Rules: Owner’s Guide to Sharing Recreational Property

By Nikki Koski

Self-Counsel Press, 2005

96 pages, $14.95 Paperback

Nikki Koski’s excellent missive on how to share inherited vacation property is a must-read for everyone in the same position or who might be. Koski, in this short, thorough book, leaves no dock unturned in her quest to take the conflict out of sharing a cottage with siblings.

Koski and her three siblings (the Malette family) inherited a family cottage in Ontario after their father’s death. He left them a modest sum to pay for part of the upkeep of the cottage that would last several years but not indefinitely. For 14 years, Koski and her siblings have shared the cottage peacefully with not only the siblings, but the next generation as well.

The secret, according to Koski, who works in real estate, is treating the cottage as a business. Each of the four siblings is called a “partner” and there are four cornerstones to the system: meetings, bookings, banking and work weekends. Koski tells readers how her family implements the rules but leaves wiggle room for others to adapt.

A CD-ROM at the back of the book provides the forms and checklists that Koski created, which means that the rest of us don’t have to re-invent the wheel. Besides business forms — such as a ledger, log book, and expenses — the checklists are decidedly cottagey and include basic pantry supplies and meal plans.

I loved the detailed information Koski lists for booking rates. Each family pays per night or half-day to use the cottage, which goes towards the upkeep. From family to guests, to adult children to overnight or day use, Koski gives an example for every scenario. It operates on the honour system, as it should when family is involved.

Since ambiguity can cause conflict, the system is as detailed as it is flexible. Her continued partnership with her siblings is the best advertisement for this book.

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