Merrill Center for Family WealthTM

Your family, your vacation home

Second homes speak to what many families value most. They’re a place to gather, spend time together and build memories. And keeping them in the family over generations requires planning, attention to detail and work.


Back in the early 1960s, a young couple living in San Francisco purchased a small cabin on a large piece of land on the coast, two hours from the city. It was, at first, just a getaway for themselves and their four small children, but soon that cabin became a cherished gathering spot for extended family, including aunts, uncles and cousins. Eventually, a series of physical additions transformed the small cabin by degrees into a large, gracious home, with enough room for 50 years’ worth of stored-up memories of summer nights and holiday gatherings.

Flip through the family album to today. The home remains a beloved destination, but the family has grown and so have the complexities of maintaining the property and its traditions. The four children now have adult children of their own. The original matriarch and patriarch are deceased, and the trust they left for upkeep and maintenance is dwindling. After years of exposure to the elements, the home needs a new roof, new siding and other major repairs. Yet those physical upgrades, while significant, are merely symbolic of much larger challenges facing a family that longed for the home to be as meaningful for subsequent generations as it had been for them. Who makes the decision to keep house? Who pays the bills? Who oversees the upkeep? Who gets to use the house, and when?

Would the siblings, who couldn’t match those contributions, feel as if their brother was taking over? Would they begin to feel they had less ownership or access?

It’s a classic scenario faced by many families that come to view their beach house, mountain retreat or European villa as something more than just a vacation home and almost an extension of the family. It can be a touchstone for precious memories during the kids’ formative years — a symbol of the family’s shared love and values. But as families expand and new generations arise, unresolved questions — from big-picture financial issues right down to who sweeps the floors — can gather like moss under the leaves.

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