How Do I Deal With Items of Sentimental Value in a Will?

Like many people, one of the reasons you desire to write a last will and testament is to ensure that personal property, including items with particular sentimental value, end-up in the hands of proper people following your passing. Noting this, you may wonder how you can easily go about designating who is to take possession of different items of sentimental value through your will following your death.

Writing a Will

If you know nothing more about the specifics of preparing a will, you do understand that you can list your personal property in that instrument and set forth to whom you want it to go when you die. The problem with disposing of individual items of sentimental value in this manner is that you might change your mind or end up with different items or people in your life after you draft your will. If you list these items directly in your will, if you want to change who gets what, you have to create a whole new will.

The process of drafting and executing a will can prove to be complicated and time-consuming. You truly don’t want to have to revisit writing a will and creating a new one when you truly only desire to make more minor changes.

Fortunately, in California – as is the case nearly everywhere in the United States – you have another alternative available to you that permits you the ability to indicate where you want specific items of personal property go, including sentimental items, on a separate list that is generally referenced in the will. You will need only contain a clause that you’ve prepared a list of personal items and who they are intended to go to after you die. The provision further notes that this list may be revised and updated from time to time.

Creating a Separate List of Personal Property

When you create this type of list, you do not need to satisfy any special signing requirements. You merely list property items, or categories of these items, and list the name of the individual to whom you desire them to go after death.

You need to sign the personal property list after you create it. Make sure that you date it as well in the event that you’ve created this type of list in the past. Prior property lists and how to deal with them are discussed more fully in a moment.

Ideally, you should attach this property designation and distribution list directly to your will. As a practical matter, you don’t want to staple it to your will in the event you do end up changing it from time to time. Paperclipping it to the will suffices.

You are not actually required to append the list directly to your will. However, as a practical matter, you want the person you name as your executor in your will to be able to readily access not only your will but the property list as well.

Changing Your Property List

You need to make certain that there is never any confusion about what is the most current incarnation of your property list. The best course to take is to physically destroy an existing property list when you create a new one. By destroying any preexisting list after you create a new one you eliminate the prospect that multiple lists will cause confusion.

Real Estate and a Property List

It’s important to note that the property list that can be referenced in a will has limitations. The most significant limitation is that it cannot be used as a means of transferring real estate to someone after you die. You need to set forth in your will itself who will take ownership of real estate following your death.

Consult an Estate Planning Attorney

In order to take full advantage of California probate laws and what they allow you to do when it comes to estate planning, you should consider seriously retaining the services of an experienced estate planning attorney. The reality is that an estate and probate lawyer understands the ins and outs of laws applicable to the overall estate planning process. (The use of the amendable property list is a prime example of an estate planning tool that the vast majority of people are not aware exists.)

The first step in retaining an attorney for estate planning purposes is to schedule what is known as an initial consultation. During this meeting, an estate and probate lawyer can evaluate your situation and determine what course of action makes the most sense for you. As a matter of practice, a California estate planning lawyer doesn’t charge a fee for an initial appointment.

As a final note, once you undertake the estate planning process, you will need to make sure it remains up to date. In other words, you will want to have an “estate planning checkup” about every year or so.