Who Gets My Stuff?
Written by Craig Wisnom
George Carlin had a routine about all the tangible personal property in our lives, in which he said, “That’s all a house is, a place to keep your stuff! If you didn’t have so much stuff, you wouldn’t need a house. You could just walk around all the time.”
Many of us do have a tremendous attachment for these tangible items, and the role they have in our lives. Between individuals, interests may vary wildly regarding jewelry, clothes, books, music, artwork, motorcycles, swords, figurines, and a host of other categories, but a great deal of us find some reflection of our personality and passions through our “stuff.”
It’s no surprise that in certain estates, who gets which of these items can be of tremendous interest, and, unfortunately, sometimes great strife and disagreement. And, if full-on litigation arises, it doesn’t take long before the attorneys’ fees eclipse any possible value the items themselves might have.
The good news is, if you have the inclination, there are easy means to specify who gets your “stuff.” Rather unique among the more formal requirements of most your estate plan, Arizona law specifically provides that you can prepare a signed, written list to distribute tangible personal property, and such a list will become a legally binding part of your Will. If you have a Revocable Trust Agreement, that also can provide the ability to prepare this type of list, though the Trust Agreement must specifically allow it.
Therefore, you need not involve the attorney with divvying up your Hummel collection or library as part of your actual Will or Trust, saving time and money. If you make changes as to which nephew gets which crossbow, you do not need to spend the effort and fees to have your Will redrawn.
Some questions that frequently arise in this process:
(1) Do I have to make a list of all my stuff?
No! You can designate as many specific items as you wish, but there is no need to catalogue all your silverware or anything else. Your list, if you wish, can also just deal with broad categories, as long as they are clear – i.e., “All my furniture to Joey, all my jewelry to Jane.”
(2) Do I need to make a list saying who gets my stuff?
No! It’s up to you, and many people don’t need to take advantage of the list – it’s only if you have specific wishes for items or categories of items. Your Will or Trust should include language about what happens to the “stuff” not covered on a list.
(3) What do I do with my list?
While the list need not be notarized or prepared by an attorney, you do need to make sure it is safe and can be found. We recommend clients, for whom we typically keep their original Wills, send us the original list, so we can hold onto it for safe-keeping, and so the Personal Representative will know of its existence. One way or another, these lists should be kept with the original estate planning documents.
(4) Can I leave small amounts of money under a list?
No! The flexibility of these lists is limited, and the lists will apply only to tangible personal property, such as furniture, jewelry, pets, artwork, etc., but cannot include cash, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, or currency. So, if you want to leave $5,000 to a nephew, that monetary gift has to be included in your Will or Trust.
(5) What are the requirements of the list?
The list must be signed by you, and dated. It should be as clear as possible so people can read the document and know exactly what you intended. While we frequently provide sample forms, you may wish to type this information into the computer, and, as long as you print it out, sign it and date it, it will be valid. The most cautious approach is to sign and date each page on the list.
Ultimately, whatever your wishes, and however detailed they are, you want to make sure they are clearly provided for under your estate planning documents. If you have the desire to spell out who gets every single lead soldier in a collection, you can do so by preparing your own list, or, if you wish to leave all the decisions up to your sister, your Will or list can state that as well. If you have questions about how this is implemented in your estate plan, or if you would like a sample list, please contact your attorney at Bogutz & Gordon.