When someone dies, all of their assets at the date of their death form part of their estate. This includes personal possessions, which are also known as personal chattels.
Personal possessions are items belonging to an individual which are not cash, savings, items purchased as an investment or used for business purposes. This therefore includes jewellery, contents of a property, vehicles (unless used for business purposes) etc. However, possessions that are owned jointly with another person, will pass under the rules of survivorship to the surviving owner
If an individual has a Will, under the terms of the Will, possessions can be specifically gifted. Alternatively, a chattels clause can be included in the Will giving flexibility for items to be distributed in accordance with any letter the individual leaves with the Will, or be distributed at the Executors and Trustees discretion.
What happens to personal possessions will depend on the item, its condition and the wishes of the beneficiary. Beneficiaries may wish to retain possessions, especially if they have sentimental value, e.g. photographs/jewellery/ornaments etc. Any possessions not retained may be distributed to others interested in the estate, with the agreement of all beneficiaries. Alternatively, they may be sold, given to charity or disposed of. The sale proceeds of any items sold will form part of the residuary estate and be distributed to the beneficiaries.
If you have specific wishes about particular possessions, you should consider making reference to them in a Will or by leaving a letter detailing the items you would like to pass to particular people. It may be useful to photograph specific items referred to, especially if they are difficult to describe. This will assist in preventing any potential disputes over items by beneficiaries.
If an individual does not have a Will, their personal possessions will form part of the estate passing under the Rules of Intestacy.
If you have any queries about this article, please contact the Private Client Team at our South Street Office on 01243 790532.