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Estate Personalty – Identification and Distribution

March 3, 2021

Estate Personalty – The moveable assets of the estate.  Property which is neither fixed or real property, money or investments.
Examples: vehicles, furniture, jewelry, clothing, personal items, etc.

First, a discussion with your Estate’s probate attorney should educate you regarding any laws in your state that you ought to be aware of in regards to personalty and your obligations as an executor.  As a/the fiduciary of the estate, you have a responsibility to the estate and heirs to execute this process correctly and fairly.

As to what is and what is not to be claimed as an item of value is a discussion to be had with the Probate Attorney.  It’s beyond the scope of this article to determine if the decedent’s souvenir Niagara Fall keychain, or the Marc Chagall original oil on canvas, has material value to the estate. However, when it comes to the personalty, what is recorded as a distribution received in the form of material property, the transparency and process may matter a great deal.

As far as the task of identifying items of value, and creating a process for a fair distribution of said items or personalty, every estate is different.  While it would be nice to assume that all beneficiaries will be satisfied with the decisions and process at the end of the day, for our purposes here, we are going to assume that they, or at least one, will not be, and so we proceed with that potential condition in mind.

 

Build consensus from the start

Create a draft list of the items that may be of real and sentimental value to all the beneficiaries.  Circulate to all the beneficiaries for their help.  This inclusive measure ensures that all the items that the beneficiaries are expecting will be on the initial list.  Certainly, items get sold, donated and misplaced over the years, so as executor you will need to confirm what is physically in the estate’s possession.  However, the invitation to beneficiaries accomplishes a “we’re in this together” mentality and avoids any sentiment that items were missing from the personalty list.  As told by an executor friend, “The key to a happy ending in this story is communication and transparency”.

“The key to a happy ending in this story is communication and transparency”.

 

Appraisal

If the estate you’re administrating is chock full of good stuff like Keychains from Niagara Falls, boxes of National Geographic and Tender Moments figurines, a discussion should take place with your attorney as to whether a professional appraiser is in order. If the estate items do include some items of material value, like a Marc Chagall painting, Dad’s gold watch, or the heirloom credenza, a professional appraiser may help who gets their distribution as cash, and who gets it as a professionally appraised piece of personalty.

 

A Process

There are many ways to do it.  If you as executor are also a beneficiary, you might be comfortable handing the whole deal over to your attorney and ask them.  Or, an independent arbitrator might be a good solution.

If it is on your shoulders, and the beneficiaries will be comfortable with it, (and the probate attorney has reviewed and advised on the process) distribute the list of personalty in the estate (with the values if appraised) to all beneficiaries, including yourself, if you are a beneficiary.  If desired, to cover your bases, communicate a “last call for personalty list questions/additions” to beneficiaries prior to this next step.  If you can locate these items, add them, if you can not, communicate.

Along with sending the final list, outline the process to the beneficiaries.

  • Beneficiaries receive ‘Executor’s List of Personalty in the Estate’.
  • From the Executor’s List of Personalty in the Estate, each beneficiary shall create their own list of personalty desired, in order, and forward to estate attorney.
  • Once all beneficiary lists are received, beneficiaries’ names will be placed in a random name sequence generator, such as Random.org. There is a list randomizer to chew up and spit out a random order to determine the beneficiaries’ item distribution order.  For 100% Transparency, random.org offers a live stream randomizer, called ‘Multi-Round Giveaways‘.
  • Based on the order determined above, the first beneficiary is first, distributing to that individual the first available item on their list, then moving to next beneficiary, and distributing to them the first available item on their list, etc.
  • The process of distribution of items from the master list follows, round by round, until the master list is exhausted.

When the last item is moved off the ‘Executor’s List of Personalty in the Estate’ or the last item on the last beneficiary list is distributed, the process is over.  The items that remain may be liquidated.  Estate Sales and Estate Auctions are useful tools in the process of liquidation of unwanted items from an estate for conversion to estate cash.

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