The category of "personal items" in a will includes every piece of personal property that the testator, or person who made the will, owns. It does not include real estate, but it can include anything from vehicles to jewelry to stocks and bonds. Personal items may be included in a will in different ways.
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Tangible Personal Property
Personal items listed in a will generally fall into one of two categories, according to the Judicial Education Center: tangible items and intangible items. Tangible items include anything the testator owned that can be touched. For instance, many testators leave behind clothing, grooming supplies, tools, books, furniture and household appliances. These are all examples of tangible personal property. A will may list each piece of tangible personal property separately, or it may group them under general categories such as "furniture."
Intangible Personal Property
In addition to tangible property, a decedent may have owned one or more pieces of intangible property. Intangible property has value, but cannot be touched directly like tangible property can. For instance, stocks, bonds and insurance policies are pieces of intangible personal property, some of which may be left in a will. Although the pieces of paper that represent the value of the stocks, bonds or insurance can be touched, the value itself cannot, making these items "intangible."
Personal Property Memorandum
Because the list of items of personal property and who is to receive each can get very long, many wills do not include this list in the body of the will. Instead, the information is listed in a personal property memorandum, which is referred to in the will itself and is attached to the will. A personal property memorandum is easier to amend than the will itself, and it also allows the court to address the will without wading through pages of lists. Carrying out the instructions in the personal property memorandum is part of the responsibility of the estate's executor or personal property representative.
Most tangible personal property is part of the probate estate, which means it can be distributed according to the will. However, some intangible personal property may not be controlled by the will. For instance, a life insurance policy that lists specific beneficiaries is paid directly to the beneficiaries. It does not go through the probate court. Joint bank accounts are another example of personal property that does not go through probate. Some tangible items, like vehicles, may also be owned jointly. The vehicle immediately belongs to the living owner, instead of being passed to that person via the will.
References & Resources
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