Tangible Personal Property 

Dear Friends,

I hope this message finds you well as we venture into 2024. For many, the start of a new year presents an opportunity to take initiative on goals which have fallen by the wayside. For some, estate planning falls into this category; it can be an intimidating process to start, but our clients frequently express a feeling of great relief once their plan is in place. Thinking about what will happen after we’re gone can be difficult, but taking the time to plan accordingly can greatly ease the burden on those we leave behind.

While we can guide our clients through the process of getting their legal affairs in order, there is another aspect of estate planning that often goes overlooked: managing tangible personal property. Tangible personal property includes all of your physical possessions, from your car to your clothes to the clutter in your attic. It is easy to lose sight of just how many “things” we accumulate over a lifetime, but it is important to take our physical possessions into account when planning for the future. Failing to do so may cause unnecessary work, conflict, and expense for those handling your estate.

This year, consider making a resolution to proactively manage your tangible personal property. Below, we’ve summarized some common hurdles presented by tangible personal property, as well as suggestions on how to avoid them.

#1 – Personal Collections

The Situation: The deceased leaves behind an extensive collection of art and antiques.

The Issue: The significance and identity of collection pieces are unknown to those handling the estate. Items may be overlooked, undervalued, or mishandled due to lack of knowledge. Time and money must be dedicated to cataloguing the collection and having it appraised.

The Solution: Keep detailed records of your collection; no one knows it as well as you do. You may do this by maintaining a spreadsheet or a physical binder. For each item in your collection, you should list its name, approximate value, date of acquisition, current location, and a description or photo of it. Receipts and auction information may be helpful as well.

#2 – Family Heirlooms and Sentimental Items

The Situation: The deceased leaves behind items that have been in the family for generations but may not be practical anymore. This could also apply to sentimental items like photo albums or a favorite necklace.

The Issue: Family members may be conflicted about what to do with items that hold sentimental value but are impractical to keep. They may feel guilty about letting these items go and there could be arguments about how they should be dealt with. There also may be disputes if multiple family members feel entitled to a certain item.

The Solution: Communicate your wishes to your loved ones ahead of time. Let them know which items are truly meaningful to you and which you are okay with being let go of. You can also discuss who you would like to inherit specific items and family members can express which items they’d like to keep. Make use of a memorandum of tangible personal property to list specific bequests; doing so will incorporate these gifts into your Will or Trust.

Taking the time to have these conversations will keep your family from having to make difficult decisions during an emotionally turbulent time; they will feel more comfortable handling your property if they know they are following your wishes. Creating clarity about how you want your tangible property distributed will reduce family friction and conflict.

#3 – Clutter

The Situation: The deceased leaves behind a home full of “stuff.”

The Issue: Time, effort, and money must be put towards organizing and cleaning out the deceased’s home. This not only depletes the estate’s funds, but also imposes a significant obligation on the deceased’s family or the Personal Representative/Executor or Trustee. Everything must be combed through, and decisions must be made about what to do with each item.  This process can be a stressful, tiring process, especially when done in the shadow of a recent loss.  Fiduciaries and benficiaries may have very different ideas about how the process should be handled. Some may want to go through things quickly to complete the cleanout and others may insist on going through each item to reflect on the sentiment of each piece.

The Solution: Some people accumulate more clutter than others, but most of us could stand to downsize our belongings. Make an effort to clean out, organize, and be more mindful of your possessions. Taking the time to sort through your belongings and consider what makes sense for the future is both practical and fulfilling. It not only leaves you with an organized home and a sense of accomplishment, but also reduces the burden on loved ones as they navigate your passing.

Getting started may feel daunting, but downsizing does not need to be an unpleasant experience. From Marie Kondo, to Swedish Death Cleaning, there are many approaches to tackle “stuff”.  Some prefer a gradual approach, such as committing one hour per week to sorting through an area of the house. Others may prefer a more concentrated effort, even inviting family members to help decide the future of different items. Hiring professional organizers is another great way to get a jumpstart on the downsizing process and build sustainable habits. There is an organization devoted to professionals who help people organize and declutter: National Association of Productivity & Organizing Professionals.

In embracing the season’s spirit of new beginnings and positive change, I invite you to take initiative in managing your tangible personal property and considering the future you want for your belongings. If you would like to learn more about building a comprehensive estate plan that reflects your current wishes, please reach out to Noah to schedule an initial meeting or legal check-up.

Best wishes,

Anna Byrne