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Options for Distribution of Personal Property

A question that always comes up when I meet with new Will clients is how to handle distribution of one’s personal property.distribution of personal property

One option is to direct your executor to divide your personal property equally among a group of individuals.  The Will can provide that the executor makes the decision as to what property goes to what individual or can provide that the individuals decide among themselves as to what property goes to what individual.  Both options can cause problems. If a child is also acting as executor, the decisions made by said child on how to distribute personal property among the other children may result in the destruction of ongoing family relationships.  If the children are instructed to agree among themselves as to how to distribute personal property, it is possible that the children will be unable to reach an agreement and will require court intervention or if they do reach an agreement, the process may be so volatile as to destroy family relationships.

Another option is to direct your executor to sell all personal property either by private sale or public sale and to distribute the proceeds among the beneficiaries of the Will who receive the residue of the estate.  Such option does not insure that family heirlooms will stay in the family.  A family member would have to bid for items of personal property and may be unsuccessful in acquiring the property.  The option also entails additional costs if the personal property is sold at a public sale.  

Another option which I recommend frequently is the procedure set out in Iowa Code Section 633.276 which provides that a Will may refer to a written statement, letter or list to dispose of items of tangible personal property not otherwise specifically disposed under the Will.  Tangible personal property is defined as household goods, furnishings, furniture, personal effects, clothing, jewelry, books, works of art, ornaments and automobiles.  The list specifically excludes tangible personal property used in a trade or business.  The Section requires that the writing be dated and either be in the handwriting of the decedent or be signed by the decedent.  The list also must describe the items and the beneficiaries of the items with reasonable certainty.  The Code Section provides that the writing may be altered, added to or changed in any respect by the testator after it has been prepared.  As such, the testator may change the disposition of his or her personal property at any time without the need to execute a new Will or to amend their previous Will. The list option goes a long way to solve the pitfalls of the other options discussed above.

Our office provides our clients easy to complete forms which allow for a brief description of each item and the primary and contingent beneficiaries of each item. Typically, I add language in the Will that provides for the distribution of the remaining items of personal property which are not mentioned in the list.  If you are interested in retaining our office to handle your estate planning needs, please contact us by phone or email.