How are Personal Possessions Distributed?

by Matthew Karr, Esq. on July 12, 2013

There are several ways that you can take control over how your personal possessions are distributed to your loved ones either as part of your estate plan or outside of the estate planning context. Often it is the personal belongings that hold the most sentimental value and sometimes monetary value as well. How these assets are distributed is up to you, but it should be considered as part of your overall estate planning strategy.

Disposing of your personal effects individually though your Will can be burdensome. You have to list all of the items in your Will and you have to list who you want to inherit these items. If you change your mind or if you acquire additional items that you’d like to bequeath, you have to change your Will. This might be appropriate, however, for items of significant value or if you are particularly concerned about estate disputes among your heirs.

Often, a well drafted Will has a provision leaving your personal possessions in percentages of approximate value to your beneficiaries, empowering your Personal Representative to make the final distribution. This informal method can work well, particularly if your heirs get along well and can agree on an orderly disposition of items.

Your Will should also include the ability for you to leave a Personal Memorandum where you can list specific items to leave to specific individuals. The beauty in this strategy is that the Personal Memorandum is an informal document that is incorporated into the Will by reference. This means that you can add, delete or otherwise change any provision in the Memorandum without having to redo your Will and without hiring an attorney. Typically the Will would say that if a Personal Memorandum is not found within a specified time period after your death it will be assumed to not exist. For this reason, it is important that you let your Personal Representative or other beneficiaries know where the Personal Memorandum is located.

One option outside of your estate plan would be to simply gift certain possession to your beneficiaries during life. This can be a meaningful gesture that allows you to witness their joy in accepting your gift. It also means that you lose control over the gifted asset during life, however.

There is no limit on the number of ways personal items can be passed along to your loved ones. However, whichever way you choose to dispose of your personal items, it’s important to communicate your desires rather than leave it up to your heirs to make all the decisions.

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