Lawyers on Call: Taking Care of Personal Possessions in Your Will

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Beth Westfall, partner at Coughlin & Gerhart explains more about personal possessions and putting them in a will.

How do I take care of my personal possessions in my will?

We all have lots of personal possessions (jewelry, photographs, whatever). You can include a list of personal possessions in your Will and specify who gets what. But that could be a very long list. And, if you decide to change that list in your Will, then you have to go back and change your Will.

Are there better ways to handle this?

Yes, you can make a list, separate from your Will, and give that list to your Executor. Then in your Will, you can give your Executor the authority to distribute those items according to the list. It’s more flexible that way, because you can change the list without having to change your Will. The most important thing to do is to make sure that your Executor has a copy of that list, or knows where to find it.

What happens if I don’t get around to making the separate list?

That does happen, often. But your Will can cover that situation, by saying that if there is no list, then your Executor has the discretion to distribute those items to the people you name, however your Executor thinks best. And you can give your Executor the final say on these items, in case there’s a debate in your family. You can use this same approach even if you never want to make a list: you name the recipients in your Will and your Executor divides the personal possessions among those people.

What happens if I make a specific bequest in my will and later decide to give that item away, or sell it?

Always remember that your Will only controls the things you own at the moment of your death. You can always do whatever you want with your property during your lifetime, no matter what your Will says. So if you give me your diamond necklace in your Will, and then someday you decide to give that necklace to your daughter, that clause in your Will is no longer effective.

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