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Who gets what? How to use a Memorandum to Distribute Tangible Personal Property Along with Your Will

When drafting wills and other estate planning documents for clients, we always discuss tangible personal property. What is tangible personal property? It’s all of your “stuff” – Cars, furniture, appliances, antiques, wedding bands, tools, equipment, dishes, and knicknacks, just to name a few. Many clients want to ensure that certain items are passed onto particular individuals, often for sentimental reasons. Many have kept a list, or even labeled those items discreetly throughout their home.

The question is, how can the client make sure these items end up in the right hands after they are gone? Does all that “stuff” have to go into the will? The answer is to create a Memorandum Distributing Tangible Personal Property along with your will. This way, you can make these decisions in the comfort of your own home, even years after your will has been executed.

Here are the basics:

  1. For the Memorandum to be legally valid, you must have a valid will, and the will must expressly refer to, or “incorporate” the Memorandum.
  2. The Memorandum must be in your handwriting or signed by you, preferably both
  3.  The Memorandum should specifically describe each item, and the full name of the beneficiary, and their relation to you.
  4. The Memorandum cannot dispose of money, bank accounts, insurance policies, real estate, or securities.  Remember – only “stuff.”
  5. You should provide for alternate beneficiaries, in case the primary listed beneficiary doesn’t survive you. If there is no alternate beneficiary, the item will be distributed according to the provisions in your will.
  6. The Memorandum should be kept in a safe place, along with your will.
  7. If, you want to change beneficiaries or items listed in the Memorandum, you should create an entirely new document, NOT make changes to the one you already completed and signed. The old document should then be destroyed.

Lastly, and most importantly, using a Memorandum Distributing Tangible Personal Property is not a substitute for updating your will and other estate planning documents. You should review your estate plan every year, or anytime you have a life-changing event (a birth, death, marriage, divorce, major purchase, relocation, starting a business, significant change in net worth, or declining health) For more information about estate planning, see my Frequently Asked Questions on Wills and Estate Planning, or  contact me.