Personal belongings (or ‘chattels’) can be the centre of a dispute between family members when someone dies. Often the monetary value of these items is minimal, but the sentimental value is very important to your loved ones, and can lead to disappointed beneficiaries spending lots of time and money on attempting to obtain personal chattels from your estate.
When making a Will, it is important to consider who should inherit your personal chattels, not just your property and cash assets. In your Will, you could leave a specific gift of certain items to your beneficiaries such as your wedding ring to your daughter. This will make the distribution of your estate much easier and make it clear who should receive those items.
Alternatively, your Will could state that you would like your executors (the individuals you have appointed to distribute your estate) to distribute your personal belongings at their discretion taking into account a letter of wishes you have left for them. Your letter of wishes can set out a list of the items and the names of the people you would like to receive them. You can prepare this letter yourself and update it as many times as you like.
Although this letter is not binding, it will give helpful guidance to your executors when they deal with your estate and will also highlight to them the items within your estate. If any items have gone “missing” from the property the executors will be able to use the letter as a starting point and investigate whether any of the items were gifted to someone during your lifetime. If the gift has been made in the last 7 years, they will need to report this to HMRC as these gifts will still form part of your estate for inheritance tax purposes.
Alternative Ways to Leave Personal Chattels
Other options are to leave your personal chattels to fall into the residuary estate and for the executors to simply sell the items and the proceeds divided between your residuary beneficiaries. You could also consider allowing your loved ones to select an item each as a memento within a certain period of time, and then the rest can be sold and the proceeds divided between your residuary beneficiaries.
In some cases, we have come across situations where the deceased’s personal belongings and the rest of the estate have been left to different people. In these circumstances, your Will should clearly state who should pay the costs of clearing the property and the sale of the items as this can cause practical difficulties after you have died.
It is important to ensure that you consider what you would like to happen to your personal belongings when you die to try to avoid hassle for your executors and any ill feeling between your family members.