The Assignment of Personal Items to Trust

By John Stevens J.D.

A living trust is a legal entity that holds property for the benefit of someone other than the person who created the trust. The process of transferring property into a trust varies depending on the type of property. For example, transferring a house into a trust calls for a process that is different than transferring a bank account. The process of transferring personal items into a trust is a comparatively straightforward one that is accomplished with a document typically called an "assignment of personal property."

Inventorying Personal Items

It is important to take an inventory of your personal items to determine which items you want to transfer into your trust. Generally, it is sufficient to list items using only general terms, such as “household furniture, furnishings, appliances and clothing.” You should specifically identify each individual personal item that is valuable, such as jewelry, antiques and collectibles. If you intend to leave a specific item to a specific beneficiary in your trust document, you should also describe that item with enough particularity so your successor trustee can easily identify it.

Assignment of Tangible Personal Property

Remember that you are transferring ownership of your personal items from yourself, as an individual, to yourself in your capacity as trustee of your trust. Begin your assignment document with language stating that you transfer your entire interest in the “following described items” to your trust. Use the name of the trust exactly as it appears on your trust document. For example, this language might read, “I, Mary Johnson, hereby transfer my entire interest in the following described property to The Mary Johnson Trust.” List those items you identified from your inventory after this introductory language. You must now include language stating that you, as the trustee of your trust, agree to accept the personal items into the trust. This language might read, “I, Mary Johnson, trustee, hereby agree to the above assignment.” Because you are acting in your dual capacity as an individual and as the trustee, you must sign the assignment document twice. First, sign your name as you usually do. Second, sign your name, followed by the word “trustee.”

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Adding Property to the Trust in the Future

The vast majority of trusts allow the person who created the trust to add property to the trust in the future. So long as you are mentally competent, you are free to do so at any time. Consider contacting an attorney if you are unsure whether you have the power to add items. If you acquire an item that falls within one of the general category descriptions, such as “clothing” or “furniture,” there is no need to make a change. If you acquire an item that does not fall within one of those general categories, such as a new valuable painting, you must create a new assignment form and list that item individually.

Special Considerations with Corporate Trustees

The person or entity in charge of a living trust upon its creation is called the “initial trustee.” The person or entity that assumes administration of the trust upon the death or incapacity of the initial trustee is called the “successor trustee.” If you name a corporate trustee, such as a bank, to serve as the initial or successor trustee, you should contact that business before transferring personal items to your trust. Some corporate trustees are not willing to handle the transfers of personal items because of the liability risk associated with such property. Unlike with titled property, such as a house or bank account, personal items can easily be carried away or hidden. A corporate trustee may not be willing to deal with the possibility of a lawsuit from disgruntled family members who contend that a valuable coin collection that was stored within your home, for example, has suddenly gone missing. If the corporate trustee objects to handling personal property, ask the trustee whether it would handle the property if you exempted the trustee from liability with respect to those items.

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