From the water, photo of a cottage on the lake surrounded by trees.

The Ins and Outs of Cottage Succession Planning in Michigan (Part One)

This is part one of a two-part blog post series on cottage succession planning in Michigan. You can view part two here.

The family cottage is a place for fun and relaxation in Michigan. It’s where different generations gather and form lifelong memories. When purchasing a cottage, it’s often the intent of the owner to pass the cottage on to future generations to enjoy. Unfortunately, that vision may not become a reality due to challenges such as high property taxes, differing objectives among heirs and resulting family disputes that result in the cottage being sold upon the owner’s death. Common issues that prevent the passing of a cottage to future generations in Michigan can be addressed through careful cottage succession planning.

Michigan is a Market for Second Homes

When the COVID-19 crisis hit, many predicted calamitous economic consequences. With record-high unemployment and a plunge in gross domestic product, there has been a severe plunge in economic activity across the United States. However, few anticipated that a mere four months after the pandemic took hold in Michigan and across the country, we would see record home sales driven by low mortgage rates and flight from dense urban areas.

In 2020, the Wall Street Journal reported that in New York City the luxury real-estate market has been delivered a “stunning gut-punch” due to the COVID-19 crisis. Meanwhile, the Detroit Free Press reported that Michigan’s “Up North” cottage market has “become a red-hot market this summer, and not just despite COVID-19, but perhaps because of it,” with sale prices up as much as 10% from a year ago in some areas.

With plentiful access to fresh water and beautiful natural landscapes, Michigan has always been a desirable place to own a cottage. In fact, the National Association of Home Builders estimates that 50 percent of second homes in the United States are located in eight states, with Michigan being one of them.

With so many second homes in Michigan, it’s natural that there is a great deal of interest among homeowners in succession planning issues that allow second-home cottages to remain within their families for generations to come. The goal of cottage succession planning is to set up legal ground rules that provide the best chance to keep a cottage in the family and prevent intra-family squabbles that may arise in the absence of a plan.

Reasons to Develop a Cottage Succession Plan

There are a number of reasons why a cottage owner may want to develop a cottage plan, which usually addresses concerns about successorship through the creative use of a limited liability company (LLC) or a trust (typically used for more favorable treatment associated with the uncapping of taxable value), tailored specifically for ownership of the cottage property. Here are ten common reasons why a cottage plan may be advisable.

  1. Prevent a joint owner from forcing the sale of the cottage through an action for partition
  2. An alternative to allowing common law rules to dictate how the cottage operates
  3. Prevent transfer of an interest in the cottage outside the family
  4. Protect owners from creditor claims
  5. Establish a framework for making decisions affecting the cottage
  6. Provide sanctions for nonpayment of cottage expenses
  7. A vehicle for an “endowment” (money set aside to fund cottage expenses)
  8. To require mediation or arbitration of family disputes
  9. Allocate control of the cottage between or among generations of owners
  10. May help delay (or avoid) the uncapping of Michigan property taxes

Michigan Real Estate Taxes

Cottage succession planning in Michigan has unique aspects due to its complicated real estate tax framework. Pursuant to Proposal A, a 1994 amendment to the Michigan Constitution, a property’s annual assessment increase is “capped” and cannot exceed the lesser of five percent or the rate of inflation during the preceding year. However, when ownership of property is “transferred” to a new owner, the property value is “uncapped” for purposes of calculating property taxes, and the value is adjusted to the current fair market value.

Prior to Proposal A, it was common for cottage planning to involve the use of a limited liability company (“LLC”) to enable successive generations to use and manage a family cottage. But the Michigan legislature, in revising real property tax laws to address Proposal A, did not include LLCs as a means of “transfer” that would prevent the uncapping of property taxes.

Pursuant to Michigan Compiled Laws, Section 211.27(a), transfers of ownership do not include (and therefore do not give rise to uncapping) the following:

  • Transfers to a spouse or jointly with a spouse
  • Transfers to a “qualified family member”
  • Transfers subject to a life lease retained by grantor.
  • Transfers to a trust if the settlor, settlor’s spouse or a “qualified family member” is the present beneficiary of the trust
  • Transfers from a trust, including a beneficial interest in a trust, to a “qualified family member”
  • Transfers from an estate to a “qualified family member”

A “qualified family member” includes:

  • Transferor
  • Spouse of the transferor
  • Transferor’s or transferor’s spouse’s:
    • Mother or father
    • Brother or sister
    • Son or daughter, including adopted children
    • Grandson or granddaughter

The Trust Approach to Cottage Succession Planning

Although the manager and member structure and the limited liability protection afforded LLCs make them the ideal entity to be used for cottage succession planning, in Michigan, the favorable treatment associated with trusts as a means to prevent the uncapping of real estate taxes upon transfer of a cottage to the next generation, have resulted in trusts being the entity of choice in Michigan. Part two of this series will discuss in further detail the aspects of using a trust in cottage succession planning in Michigan allowing the cottage to be used and enjoyed by future generations in an organized way that helps reduce the risk of family disputes and accordingly increases the likelihood that the cottage will be part of the family for generations to come.

If you have any questions about planning issues for your cottage in Michigan, please contact Fraser Trebilcock shareholder Mark Kellogg.

We have created a response team to the rapidly changing COVID-19 situation and the law and guidance that follows, so we will continue to post any new developments. You can view our COVID-19 Response Page and additional resources by following the link here. In the meantime, if you have any questions, please contact your Fraser Trebilcock attorney.

Fraser Trebilcock attorney Mark E. Kellogg is a certified public accountant, and has devoted over 30 years of practice to the needs of family and closely-held businesses and enterprises, business succession, commercial lending, and estate planning. You can reach him at 517.377.0890 or

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