Distance: 4 Miles
They always look so idyllic, these old family houses, when you see pictures, drive by or even as settings in movies. I just a got an email from a friend who opted out of his share of his family's lake house several years ago. I take a bit of credit for encouraging him as I have seen many, many of these family owned houses become the source of bitter family disappointments, disagreements, and out and out feuds and lawsuits.
The first generation after the parents die - the original brothers and sisters - might - make it through all the hassles largely because they share common memories and know the 'rules' of the house. It helps immensely if they all live near the house and have equal access to it, agreement on furnishings (whether to keep the old, when/how to update), and enough money to easily pay their share of upkeep: taxes, winterizing, repairs, new roof, etc. (this is key).
But by the time their kids, the grandchildren, have grown all hope of easy enjoyment is usually lost. The parents have aged and no longer enjoy tennis, waterskiing or even sitting in the sun. They have dispersed and live away from the family home so getting to it is a chore. Or several may have moved but one may have stayed close by, and that child's children may have spent an 'inordinate' amount of time at the family house. They may have have trashed it even. They may have brought friends on a regular basis, expect to have their weddings and important events there. They don't know 'the rules.' Then when the inevitable maintenance, tax and repair bills continue to come in - and indeed are often much, much steeper, the cousins who live hundreds of miles away and seldom or never make use of the house, are struggling with tuition and medical costs are increasingly resentful that they should pay as much as the (richer, closer, more destructive, you name it) relatives. And the relatives who have easy and constant access feel cheated of their lovely way of life when the away family members don't or are angry about paying the percentage of ownership fees set up many years ago in the original parents' will.
If the house somehow continues to be held by the more and more extended family (replete with numerous marriages, the 'bad apples,' etc), watch out. Hatfields and McCoys, here we come!