Property Distribution Planning

June 19, 2015
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“Research concerning property distributions at death has shown that the distribution of personal effects is responsible for more family acrimony than just about anything else…” – Author Jim Flynn

Jim Flynn wrote about the distribution of personal effects, or tangible personal property in The Gazette. He describes personal effects as items such as photo albums, jewelry, china, art, fishing rods, school yearbooks, automobiles and National Geographic collections. These are often items people forget to include in their estate planning documents, instead focusing on the bigger assets like real estate, investment accounts, retirement savings, etc. However, the personal effects tend to have sentimental value and dividing these items up can cause tension between family members upon the death of a loved one. The best way to avoid this strain is to prepare a list of who gets each of your personal items ahead of time. Flynn explains, “The decedent is permitted to prepare, and to change from time to time, a list of who gets what with no witnesses or notaries being necessary. The only requirements, in addition to a Will authorizing the procedure, are that the statement must be in the decedent’s handwriting or signed by the decedent, and the statement must describe the items of personal property, and who is to get them, with reasonable certainty.”

As with all planning, preparing a list ahead of time will help keep peace within the family at the time of your passing as they will have explicit instructions regarding your wishes and will not be left to make decisions on their own.

While this informal method can help ease any potential tension and let your family know your wishes, it may only be morally binding in New York and not legally supported in court. To be sure a certain personal effect is distributed to a specific beneficiary, it should be included in your Will or your Trust. The word to the wise here is to take the time to think about all of your assets, both big and small and determine the overall disposition of your assets, then sit with an experienced estate planning lawyer who can help establish the plan in writing. Feel free to reach out to us at (631) 424-2800 as we have helped many clients solidify their wishes.

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