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How To Keep Your Cabin In The Family

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Cabins hold so many memories for families. Those memories can quickly fade if plans aren't made for the cabin's future. The division of an estate after death can lead to bitter family battles. Experts advise there are ways to keep the family cabin in the family without conflict.

Ron and Sue Durkin have a fondness for life on the lake.

"It's my greatest memories as a kid is going to the lake so to me lakes are building memories," Ron Durkin said.

The couple bought their own cabin for their family on that same lake in 1990. With dreams of building family bonds.

(credit: CBS)

"It's different when you're here. You're focused on that family time, on being together, finding activities that pull people together, whether it's a boat ride or we play cards," Sue Durkin said.

They watched their kids grow and love it there. And now, they see the next generation embrace lake life in their granddaughter.

"Just watching her love the lake, she can't wait to go on the boat. It's just really fun seeing her build memories," Ron Durkin said.

It became important for the Durkins to think about the future of the cabin, and just how this special place will get passed on to their kids.

"What we were looking to protect is that it would -- it really follows in our family. Our kids, grandchildren, that we wanted it to follow that track," Sue Durkin explained.

That's where Bonnie Wittenburg comes in.

"Certainly thinking about the future is pretty important," Wittenburg said.

The attorney specializes in estate planning.

"It's one thing when mom and dad are in control. It's a complete different issue when mom and dad are now deceased. Sometimes you think the kids are back to being 10 years old. It's amazing what kind of things just spark conflict," Wittenburg said.

While you may not want to, she says it's crucial to think about what you want and what can go wrong. One child may not want to keep the cabin, or it could get tied up in divorce proceedings. Wittenburg explains there are two preferred solutions: a trust or limited liability company.

"It's a company and you basically own what we call membership interest in it. Think of about like if you own stock in a company, it's sort of the same kind of idea. But with a trust it's set up that a trustee manages it and there are certain provisions in the trust for how it's supposed to be handled and passed down to future generations," Wittenburg said.

Which you want to go with depends on the dynamics of the family and what the specific concerns are.

But she says don't let the decision overwhelm you.

"Your kids will pretty much fall into line if things are spelled out for them because you know mom and dad wanted this. If there's a blank slate and nobody really knows what mom and dad want that I think is where you're more likely to run into trouble," Wittenburg said.

The Durkins trust they've done what's right for their family.

"It certainly is a legal avenue, it's probably a smart avenue, but it protects this asset as something that truly will go into the future," Sue Durkin said.

"It just gives us a sense of comfort to know that it's as protected as much as you can protect it," Ron Durkin said.

Now that the decision is behind them, they can soak up all cabin life has to offer.

"I always think of the fact that home is home but cabin is where the memories are made," Sue Durkin said.

"You always look forward to the next season," Ron Durkin said.

There are other options like gifting a cabin but Wittenburg warns there are tax issues that aren't that attractive. If you want to protect your cabin, she suggests contacting an attorney who focuses on estate planning. And says it's a good idea to involve your kids in the conversation. There are also community classes offered on this topic.

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