Estate Planning – Questions About Tangible Personal Property

Preparing a Will enables you to direct how and to whom your estate will be distributed once you’re gone.  Your estate is comprised of your 

  1. intangible personal property (including cash, IRA’s, 401Ks, bank accounts, insurance policies, etc.),
  2. real estate, and 
  3. “tangible personal property.” 

Many times people wish to be very specific regarding how their tangible personal property will be distributed among beneficiaries.  One option is to itemize such specific bequests in a Will.  Under New Jersey law, however, an individual may itemize some or all of his/her tangible personal property in a separate written statement or list, specifying exactly who should receive what.  This list may be revised by the testator (the person bequeathing his/her estate) as often as desired during his/her lifetime, and does not require an attorney, witnesses, or notarization.  So for example, while a parent may state in her Will that her estate should be equally divided between her two children, she may attach a statement specifying that

– the gold watch goes to her daughter and the stamp collection goes to her son.

or

– her pearls go to her favorite niece, Alice.

The term tangible personal property is generally understood to mean items that can be felt or touched.  Typical items include clothing, jewelry, art, musical instruments, writings, furnishings and other household goods.  Often, these items are of relatively little monetary value, but of great sentimental worth.  It is important to remember that if you are preparing a separate statement or list, it may only serve to distribute tangible personal property, not cash, securities, negotiable interests or services.

Sometimes, however, it isn’t clear whether or not an item falls under the definition of tangible personal property.   For example, is a collection of gold Krugerrand coins considered cash or tangible person property?  These coins are minted by the Republic of South Africa, and each coin contains exactly one ounce of gold.  Given the potential for error, it’s best to consult with an attorney.  If it’s determined to be cash, then the collection should be bequeathed through the Will, which you must sign along with two witnesses, and which must be notarized.  If it’s deemed to be tangible personal property, then you can just gift it via a separate list, without the need for witnesses or a notary.  And, you can change your mind about who will receive the coins as often as you like.  Just redo the list.

When doing your estate planning, you want to feel confident that the items you bequeath to specific people on a separate list are, in fact, tangible personal property.  You don’t want your bequests to result in disputes among your heirs or in court proceedings because the items were not gifted in a legally correct manner.  

Getting Legal Help:

Experienced Estate Planning Attorney, Elga A. Goodman, can help you with all your estate planning needs.  Contact us today at 973-841-5111.

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