A small box full of jewelry

Lucy had a problem. She was a single mom with 2 children, and she wanted to treat them equally in her will. Yet she had some treasured family heirlooms that she wanted to stay in the family. She knew one of her children, Eric, felt the same way that she did and would treasure the family memorabilia. Her other child, Anne, was more practical. She knew Anne would immediately sell off the mementos to the highest bidder and keep the cash.  

She decided to leave the heirlooms to Eric, and then divide the rest of her wealth between Anne and Eric. When she wrote her will, she left her “personal property” to Eric with the remaining assets to be divided equally between Anne and Eric.

Two years later Lucy died. When the will was probated, Lucy’s careful planning immediately went awry, leaving Anne infuriated. What happened? 

Defining Personal Property

It turns out that the term “personal property” has an extremely broad, and well-established, legal meaning. Here are just a few things that were passed under Lucy’s will to Eric as personal property: 

1. LLCs

Since her real property was all owned by her LLC, that meant Eric got both the LLC interests and everything it owned. 

2. Stocks and Bonds

This includes those that were held with physical certificates, and those held via electronic records, called uncertificated. Her shares in her corporation are included as was, by extension, everything her corporation owned. 

3. Mobile home on a leased property

Manufactured housing, such as mobile homes, is personal property unless a statement of ownership and location is issued under Section 1201.207 of the Occupations Code and a certified copy has been filed in the real property records.

4. Timeshare interests

Timeshares represented by timeshare points or units of an entity that owns the property are personal property. Timeshares that are owned as a deed are not personal property. The timeshares that Lucy owned as a deed were in the name of her corporation, so they went to Eric when he received the shares of her corporation. 

5. Personal belongings 

Her furniture, personal belongings, jewelry, collectibles, pictures, heirlooms, silver, private papers. These are deemed personal property, whether located in Lucy’s home, her safety deposit box, or her storage unit. 

6. Brokerage accounts

These are personal property even if held by the brokerage firm or other nominee.

7. Digital assets

These are electronic records that she had an interest in, such as bitcoins, airline rewards, social -media accounts, hotel points, web pages, e-mail accounts, and online photographs and videos.

8. Claims and debts

This encompasses claims and debts owed to her. Promissory notes, life insurance proceeds payable to her estate, tax refunds, and refunds on prepaid items such as club memberships are all considered personal property. 

9. Unclaimed Property

Unbeknownst to Lucy, a bank account had been turned over to the State’s Unclaimed Property. This was personal property.  

Lucy’s will was clear. Her bequest of personal property to Eric meant, by Texas statute and case law, all her interest in goods, money, a choice in action, evidence of a debt, and real chattel. That may not have been her intent, but under Texas law, the courts look at what the testator (Lucy) wrote, not what she intended to write. 

Hammerle Finley Can Help You Define Personal Property

Interestingly, the same interpretation can be made of someone’s blanket assignment to the trust of all their personal property. People sign those broad assignments routinely when a trust is formed. Make sure you truly mean what you sign. There are consequences to words. 

To ensure that your will means exactly what you want it to, you may need to hire an attorney to help you with your estate planning. Contact the experts at Hammerle Finley Law Firm today. 

Virginia Hammerle is an accredited estate planner and represents clients in estate planning, probate, guardianship, and contested litigation. She may be reached at legaltalktexas@hammerle.com. This blog contains general information only and does not constitute legal advice.