Think about everything you own – perhaps you have personal possessions, savings bonds, real estate, life insurance, and financial accounts such as checking and savings, investment, and retirement accounts. Your physical personal possessions, such as your vehicles, furniture, clothing, jewelry, artwork, boats, collectibles, and other items are known as your “tangible personal property”.
Some tangible personal property is financially valuable – consider the countless stories you hear of a person discovering that the painting she bought at a garage sale is worth millions.
However, often the most significant value of tangible personal property is its sentimentalmeaning to you and your family. For example, your mother’s costume jewelry which you remember seeing her wear during special occasions. If you have siblings or other family who have similar emotions and memories attached to the same item, tangible personal property can quickly become a source of serious conflict between family members after death.
To avoid conflict that will damage the relationships between your surviving family members, speak with a qualified estate planning attorney to determine how you may best direct the distribution of your tangible personal property. One option is to identify and direct what happens with a specific item in your Will (and/or Trust). For example, the Will can state that your $3,000 statue is to be sold and the sale proceeds distributed equally among your children after your death. However, you must carefully consider whether disposing of your tangible personal property in your Will makes sense. If you later decide the statue should instead be distributed to your daughter, you will need to change your Will which will involve another trip to your lawyer’s office and another fee to make that change.
The better option is often to list specific items and their recipients on a tangible personal property memorandum. Under Massachusetts law, a memorandum that is incorporated by reference in the Will is legally enforceable even though it is a separate document from your Will and one that you can change on your own at any time. For instance, if you later prefer the statue to be distributed to your son instead of your daughter, you may update the memorandum yourself without the time and expense of changing your Will.
A third option is to distribute specific items of tangible personal property to the family member you wish to receive it while you are alive. Before doing this, consider whether you will miss the item, whether other family members will dispute that gift after your death (in which case you should document the transfer in writing), and whether you will be upset should the recipient decide to sell it or give it to someone else without consulting you.
Beyond the specific items you wish to distribute to certain recipients, it is important that your Will also describe what happens to all your other tangible personal property. For example, the Will may state that your other tangible personal property is to be distributed equally among your children. If your children do not want your remaining tangible personal property, your Will may direct your Personal Representative (Executor) to sell it, donate it to charity, and/or otherwise dispose of your tangible personal property.
A little inheritance planning goes a long way, especially after you are gone. At Samuel, Sayward and Baler LLC, we recognize the importance of maintaining family relationships, and look forward to tailoring your estate plan to fit your tangible personal property distribution wishes now and for the future.
© 2019 Samuel, Sayward & Baler LLC