What is “Personal Property” in an Estate Plan?

On Behalf of | May 6, 2020 | Estate Planning |

When putting together your estate plan, you will identify your assets and heirs, and provide instructions regarding your final wishes. During the process, you are likely to use a term such as “personal property” in some of your estate planning documents. When using these words in your will and other legal devices, it’s crucial to understand their potential interpretations. So, what is “personal property” in an estate plan?

California Personal Property

In general, an individual’s personal property is considered to be any belongings that he or she owns besides real estate. However, the term “personal property” is not defined in the California Probate Code. Nor has it been consistently interpreted by the courts. In the past, when California courts have had to decide what was meant by the use of this language, they have looked to the text of the estate planning document itself. Further, in some instances, the courts have also turned to extrinsic evidence to construe what a testator or grantor meant when they used personal property or a similar term to describe an inheritance.

Factors a Court May Consider When Defining Personal Property

In the absence of a definition, a court will consider different factors in order to reach a conclusion as to what a person meant when they used a particular term in their estate plan. For instance, a court will ordinarily consider who drafted the document. If the author was an attorney, the assigned definition is likely to be more in line with what other attorneys in the community have represented in their estate planning work. If the person wrote the document themselves, the court might have to look for additional information to discern what the individual meant when they used the term personal property.

The court will also look to other terms within the estate planning documents to determine what the individual intended. For example, if a testator left his “residence and all of its contents and furnishings” to his daughter, and bequeathed “any remaining personal property” to his son, a court may find that this language conveyed all personal property outside of the father’s home to the son. Likewise, if the estate planning document clearly states that “everything” was intended to pass to a specific heir or beneficiary, a court may find that real property will go to a named party along with other tangible assets.

Work with an Experienced California Estate Planning Attorney

When courts are left to interpret what someone meant when they referred to personal property, there are no guarantees the result will be as intended by the testator. The best way to help ensure that your final wishes are honored is to work with an experienced California estate planning attorney when preparing your documents. Your counsel can help you select the right terms to express your intent.

At the Law Offices of Alice A. Salvo, we understand the importance of drafting clear estate planning documents and can help you prepare for the future.  Contact us today for a free consultation. https://www.salvolaw.com/


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