Trinkets & Treasures: How to Properly Distribute Personal Property and Heirlooms
I would like to ensure that my valuable jewelry is distributed to certain family members. Can I accomplish this in my Will?
When it comes to creating and executing a Last Will and Testament, it is important to address both real and personal property. Real property is a term referring solely to land, whereas personal property basically involves everything else. Also known as “tangible” personal property, this can include jewelry, furs, antiques, fine art, firearms, and any other heirlooms – regardless of market value.
Many people mistakenly skip over the vital step of describing their personal property wishes in their Will, trusting that family members will know who gets what. In the aftermath of the death of a loved one, however, it is often difficult to determine precisely which piece of art was to go to which niece, and which nephew was to inherit the gun collection. Accordingly, this can create the perfect storm of emotions, creating unnecessarily family strife.
A better alternative is to include a personal property memorandum in a Will that must be honored at the time of death, and may be attached to a Will as an addendum. In this memorandum – which may be handwritten – the testator may list individual pieces of property along with the intended recipient. So long as the document is signed by the testator (or by another person at the testator’s direction), the memorandum must be upheld as valid in the event of a conflict and cannot be overlooked during the estate administration process.
Some pieces of personal property, such as firearms or artwork, come with accompanying documentation of authenticity – making proper distribution more complex. For these reasons, it is not uncommon for a testator to decide to place these items in trust to avoid the hassle of probate. This is an experience in which an estate planning attorney can be invaluable.