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Personal Property Memorandum

Did you know that family members often end up arguing over mom or dad’s favorite items when that parent dies? Shocking, I know. ("If you want to see people change…) Arguments can take place over things like a piece of jewelry, a painting, or even a coffee mug. Even with some of the best estate planning documents, I have still witnessed these fights. Yet with just a little effort, these types of arguments can be eliminated. Many of us estate planning attorneys recommend that our clients meet with family members ahead of time and explain the details of their estate plan. And, I take it one step further especially if there are multiple children.

I recommend to my clients with multiple children that they have each child submit a list of items they want. Then the parent(s) review it privately and confidentially, make their decisions, and explain to each child their decisions. The children may not be happy, but at least they know the reasons and what to expect. It also makes life much easier on the Personal Representative of the estate. The document used by the parent(s) to document the decisions about the distribution of items is a personal property memorandum and it is kept with the will or trust.

A personal property memorandum is designed to designate who should receive items owned that do not have an official title record. Personal property includes furniture, jewelry, art, and other collections, as well as household items like china and silverware. Personal property memoranda may not include real estate or business interests, money and bank accounts, stocks or bonds, copyrights, and IOUs.

When writing your memorandum, it is best to keep things simple. Personal property memoranda generally resemble a list of items with the attached names of the inheritors. It can be handwritten or typed, but should always be signed and dated.

All items should contain sufficient detail so that arguments and confusion can be avoided. Complete contact information including address, phone, email, and a backup contact, if possible, should be included. Do not include items that you have already explicitly left in your will or trust.