Your “tangible personal property” typically includes jewelry, clothes, vehicles, furniture, household furnishings, silver, books, art, photos and so on. It is often not easy to foresee conflicts your family members might face when dealing with your personal property after your death. It is often an overwhelming, unpleasant, and time-consuming task to sort through items which have accumulated over many many decades. This is why the OCD in me is always regularly decluttering and thinking about what “junk” to keep or toss.
Here are some basic tips:
Start By Giving Away Items During Your Lifetime
The first thing you can do to help your family members who will eventually be tasked with the overwhelming responsibility of sifting through your personal items is to start giving away your assets NOW. Declutter. Sell. Donate. Give away to friends or family. You can even give away items to your beneficiaries now. When I am in a decluttering mode, I always ask myself “if I were moving to a new, smaller house tomorrow, will I need or want this item?”. It’s surprising how little you actually need or want. (This is also known as “virtual moving“, which I read about in a book years ago.)
Write Down Who You Want to Receive Specific Items of Personal Property
Another thing you can do is spell out who you want to receive what in a separate written Memorandum of Gifts of Tangible Personal Property, where you list the specific item(s) in one column and the recipient(s) in the next column. This is a form of which I always provide to my estate planning clients. You can revise it over time, as long as you sign and date it. (If you need a clean copy, contact me). The most recent list will be followed if more than one list is discovered after your death. Note that this list does not need to be witnessed.
Spell Out a Procedure for Dividing Personal Property Items in Your Will or Trust
In the absence of any specific direction in the Memorandum of Gifts of Tangible Personal Property, or to the extent this Memorandum does not address certain items, the items will be divided among your beneficiaries. If you anticipate conflicts among your family and friends over your personal property, you can spell out a method for distribution in your Will or Trust. Here are just a few examples:
- To be divided in your Personal Representative or Trustee’s absolute discretion
- To be divided equally among your beneficiaries in as equal shares as they agree and to the extent there is disagreement, the Personal Representative or Trustee shall sell or distribute the items over which there is disagreement (or host a lottery, silent auction, or drawing over the items in disagreement)
- To be divided and distributed as an independent third-party determines, after giving consideration to any preferences of the beneficiaries
- To be divided and distribution in accordance with a lottery system