Even wealthy clients are often concerned about the property they have around them. They may have financial accounts with a lot of zeros, but they are more interested in the things they have collected or acquired over the years. At first glance, this may not make sense as the items may not be of much financial value. But clients may have developed a high emotional attachment to these items. In fact, there is a psychology of things and the attachment that people have to their things. (In the extreme, this manifests itself in the form of hoarding). Here is an article on the psychology of things. Here’s a humorous, irreverent look at things by comedian George Carlin.
It was probably the deck of baseball cards he started when he was six years old. It may have been a stamp collection that her father started when he was a boy. Perhaps it was the coin collection she started when she was young when her grandmother gave her a silver dollar for Christmas. Perhaps these are the drawings she drew while recovering from a stroke. Some of these items may have monetary value while others may only have sentimental value.
What is the best way to get rid of these things? Customers can give away items during their lifetime. This has many advantages, including the customer seeing the joy on the recipient’s face when receiving it. But often the customer does not want to give up the items during life.
If the client wants to wait until death, sometimes the client will want to include a specific will for each item in his will or trust (if assigned to the trust). But there are many reasons why it is not considered the best solution for the client (or attorney). First, the customer may change his mind from time to time. While they may want to give the stamp set to Johnny today, next year they may decide to give the stamp set to Becky who reveals themselves as stamps. If the stamp collection is presented as a specific will in the estate plan, the documents will need to be reviewed by visiting the attorney again. Then, the client may decide to issue wills for additional items that they did not have before or did not consider inheriting when they signed their estate planning documents.
For the above reasons and ease of wording, it is much better to deal with these types of specific wills by referring to a list or note of tangible personal possessions. This list or memorandum is a valid way to inherit property in the vast majority of states. The estate planning document refers to the list. The customer then lists the items, indicating the description of the items and to whom the customer is inheriting the items. The customer signs and dates the list. The list will not need to be documented to be valid.
If the customer changes his mind, he can simply change the menu. If they think of an additional will, again, they can simply add it to the list. Every time they make a change, they sign and date the list.
Using a tangible personal property list or memo has many benefits, including its simplicity. Perhaps most important of all, this method gives the client a sense of more direct control over their personal possessions and the items that may have the most sentimental value to them.
Stephen C. Hartnett, JD, LLM
American Academy of Estate Planning Lawyers, Inc.
9444 Balboa Street, Suite 300
San Diego, CA 92123
Phone: (858) 453-2128