Most people have a broad idea of how they want their estates to pass to others after their deaths. For example, it might make sense for a particular individual that most assets go to a surviving spouse, to surviving children or to a charity. But what about individual gifts of personal property?
What is personal property?
Personal property includes tangible things that are not real estate. Personal property does not include intangible assets like securities, accounts, insurance or stocks. We are talking about a person’s personal effects – things that can be not only of significant value like an original piece of artwork or a piece of fine jewelry, but also of sentimental value such as a family heirloom. Some have both value as well as emotional richness or nostalgia to the owner and their family.
A person may want to leave an item of personal property to an individual to show gratitude for that person’s role in life or out of affection. Some families have strong attachment to things that belonged to their ancestors.
Separate, written statements or lists
In Colorado (and in many other states), state statute creates a logical, easy way to pass personal property after death by allowing people to keep lists of personal items with designations of the individuals who are to receive them. The person’s will must refer to the existence of this list.
Colorado statute calls this device a “separate writing or memorandum” or “written statement or list” to devise things not specifically included in the will. The testator (person making the list) must either handwrite the list or sign it, but there is no requirement that a witness or notary sign it. The person should describe the items and recipients in the statement with “reasonable certainty.”
The list can predate the will or be created after the will, and the testator may alter it at any time. This is the beauty of this device – that a person can change their mind about individual items without having to go through the formality of amending their will.
The descriptions of things and people in the list should be specific and detailed so that the items as well as the recipients can be properly identified without confusion. This is especially true for a beneficiary who is not a family member. In addition, the testator can name an alternative beneficiary for an item should the named recipient predecease the testator.
An estate planning attorney can answer questions about how to leave personal property to beneficiaries after death.