E211 Use a Personal Property Memorandum to Bequeath your Stuff

Many people make this mistake with personal property when creating their estate plan: They include a long laundry list of the tiniest items in their official, legal will.

We’ll discuss why this can be a problem, and what you should do instead.

Leaving personal property in a will

Leaving personal property in a will

It is very common to leave personal property in a will. However, it can cause problems during the probate process.

Personal property lists change frequently. The items on the list may change, or you may change who you want to receive the items. You won’t want to pay money to update your will every time there is a change on the list.

Unlike a bank account, it’s hard to put a value on your personal property. Some personal property items that might make sense to put in the will are large or expensive items. Examples of these are a classic car, expensive jewelry and art, and collectibles. To determine whether the item has significant value, ask yourself: would this item be worth sending to an appraiser?

Personal property you should never put in your will

To re-cap, items that are fine to put in your will are ones with big value, worth paying for an appraisal, and things that you will likely still own when you die.

People love to put furniture in their wills, but this isn’t usually a good idea. Furniture is often in poor condition, heavy, and costly to move. It also puts pressure on the beneficiaries who may not have wanted the furniture, as most people already have complete furnished houses.

Personal property you should never put in your will

What about jewelry that is more expensive than costume jewelry, but less expensive than “estate” jewelry? It’s worth something, but not worth appraising. In this case, it’s best not to mention it in the will.

Lastly, do not put clothing in your will! Unless it is a costly mink coat, it’s not worth the headache to have your will revised every time you get rid of or buy clothing. Again, like furniture, your clothes may not be desired by your heirs.

It’s not that these items are not important, but there is a better way to leave much of your personal property to your loved ones.

Use a personal property memorandum, instead

Use a personal property memorandum, instead

A personal property memorandum is a separate document that is not part of your will. Revising your will is expensive but updating a personal property memorandum is not. The personal property memorandum is very easy to update. It could be as simple as a Word document that you update as you wish, then send the most recent copy to your attorney to keep on file. Unlike a will, the personal property memorandum is not legally binding, and that’s ok! You should choose an executor who you trust to carry out your wishes.

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