How should an estate plan deal with sentimental property?


In last week's post we talked about the importance of providing instructions for the disposition of family heirlooms and other tangible personal property in one's estate plan. These items often have little or no monetary value but a lot of sentimental value. Fortunately, California's Probate Code provides a relatively easy way to identify who should get these assets.

In California, a testator can prepare a written list, separate from their will, which spells out which heirs should receive specific items of tangible personal property. Tangible personal property is defined to include automobiles, jewelry, furniture and similar items. It does not include real estate.

In order for the list to be effective, the will must refer to it, it must be dated, and it must be signed by the testator or in their handwriting. The list must describe each item, and identify who is to receive it, with a reasonable level of certainty.

The total value of the personal property identified in the list cannot be more than $25,000, and no single item on the list can be worth more than $5,000. If the list includes an asset with a value greater than $5,000, that asset will not be disposed of by the list but will instead fall under the remainder clause of the will.

The advantage of using a separate written list to dispose of personal items is that if the testator changes his or her mind, it is not necessary to draft a whole new will and go through the formalities of executing it. All the testator has to do is prepare a new list, date it and sign it. An experienced estate planning attorney can give additional advice on how to prepare a personal property list that will be effective under California law.

Source: Cal. Prob. Code § 6132, accessed April 24, 2016

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