As we get ready to share some of the events of the past few years, I thought a little background may help to set the stage. The Cottage has been a "family" cottage, like many others for well over 100 years. Our family faced what many others are now facing and that is, how to make it work with multiple owners with varying degrees of commitment. In our case, it didn't work.
In the book Saving the Family Cottage, author Stuart J. Hollander, Esq. outlined a variety of solutions for protecting that well loved, long held place that many of us have been blessed to have.. the Family Cottage. If you haven't read it, or have put off doing something about your succession planning, do it NOW.
Our family is no different from any other family. We have our ups and downs, screwballs and nutcases, our caretakers and takers, etc. etc.. When the time comes, and it always does, there is always that ONE that doesn't want to play nice. Generally you can spot the ONE. We did. What we didn't do and is all to common, is talk. Really talk. If we'd talked to each other, this whole mess could have been avoided. So, start talking to your family friends. Talk about your vision for the old cottage, share your objectives with each other, see if you can all find a common ground and then do something to legally outline a few basic guidelines. Legally.
We (and I mean most of us) thanked God that our great grandparents had the spirit of adventure and the love of the place to purchase the cottage and additional lots back in the 1880's. My great grandparents thought they had planned well. They bought the adjacent lot for my grandmother's sister Katherine and she built a cottage that my cousins grew up in and is now owned by the Morleys. Our cottage passed along to my grandmother who planned accordingly to have it eventually pass along to her children after my grandfather's death. There were many discussions on rules and individual ownership trusts etc. and for a while it worked. To a degree it worked.
We (my mother, aunt and uncle) shared a joint account that each family paid into to cover the costs of dues, upkeep, taxes, etc.. Improvements to the cottage were to be by mutual agreement. Various "rules" were worked out for each family unit to have exclusive "time" during the season and "first come use" out of season. What was never well understood or accepted was who and how the front cottage could be used. Was the "younger" generation permitted up front without adult supervision? With a wide age span of "4th generation" cousins this issue was a bit tricky. There was no one set of rules about this that anyone actually agreed on. People assumed. Not a good foundation. Occassionally there were meetings. Various improvement projects were discussed and at times, agreements were reached. More often, not. I remember trying to find new carpet. My grandmother did a fairly significant renovation in the early fifties. The carpet that was put in then is still there. My aunt Helen Anne, my mother and I spent a fair amount of time bringing home samples. David refused to have anything to do with it. Could something have been done to resolve this issue? Perhaps but more likely not. No one talked. So, the carpet stayed down. It has been down about 60 some years now. Nice.
We were all up one summer and the refridgerator died. It was pretty old and its time had come. Mother called the other "owners" and David refused to participate in buying a new refridgerator so mother bought it. It is now sitting in our garage and will be donated shortly to a good cause. The list goes on. Curtains, bedspreads, painting, etc.. Mother and Helen Anne, Kathi deGeus,Katy Jenkins, myself.. it was always fun to take on a project and we did. We all grew up knowing that we were "caretakers" of the cottage. We took care. If something needed to be done, we did it. Most of the major projects couldn't be agreed on. We had to live with peeling paint on the exterior, or rotting boards at the beach house. David assumed some sort of "in charge" position there and blocked most suggestions. These are the little things that swept under the carpet too long start to build up. It built up quickly.
When the lines of "ownership" started to shift and some of the 4th generation became owners, David had a problem. A big problem. Control started to slip from his grasp and gasp...we had grown up, had families of our own and a voice. None of these things are unique. All families have these opportunities and challenges. Discussions and shared objectives should have brought everyone together. Instead, separation became more evident. No longer was the cottage the "family" gathering place. Each family became more and more isolated from each other. Those of us who grew up together maintained family ties but the others? We drifted farther apart and became more isolated then ever. And then.....
The bumps in the road happened more frequently. Respect for the cottage, for each other and each other's family started to erode. There is always "that one" remember? As far as I know, no one from our family ever mistreated the cottage. We respected the other family's right to their exclusive use and we left the cottage better than we found it. I can share stories about "cottage raids" as I like to call them. Times that my family, my kids, etc. were there and David would bust in and do "bed checks". Seriously. At 8:00 one Saturday morning, David showed up. I was in my bathrobe, my youngest daughter's boyfriend was in the kitchen with me drinking coffee (you should have seen the look on his face) and David insisted he'd left something there. I assured him that I had not seen it, had not seen it ANYPLACE, that if it did show up, I'd CALL him. After about 15 minutes in the kitchen he insisted on looking through all the bedrooms. The girls had friends up and everyone was in their own beds. All was good. He went through all their rooms. Can anyone imagine my father doing such a thing to them??? Never. It was insulting, invasive and disrespectful. Was it the ultimate deal breaker in all this mess? No. Just one more thing swept under the carpet. The pile was getting larger by the day.
When the time came to make some changes was it a surprise? No. Not really.Was the process of resolution surprising? well... yes. Who would have thought that a brother would go to such lengths to grab away something that was a gift to each of them? A treasure to be cared for, not raked through the public courts. Who or what was won? We will share the story in hopes that this will encourage others to do things differently. It can happen to anyone and let this be a lesson in what not to do!!! More to come....