It seems that nowadays we can’t turn on the TV without coming across a program about
antiques, often featuring a treasured item that has been passed down the generations.
The expert’s valuation may be minimal, but usually the current owner professes a
great attachment to the item as being an important link to a departed relative. So
whether or not our personal chattels have major monetary value, it can be important
to use our Will to pass them on appropriately – but what is the best way to do it?
A clear, simple Will is always a good starting point – ‘everything equally between
the children’ is a typical intention. For the executor handling the probate and the
estate administration that intention is relatively easy to implement for money from
savings or from selling the house – but it is tricky to divide between the children
the treasured grandfather clock or the piece of jewellery that is regarded by all
as a family heirloom. Hence, simply letting chattels fall into the residue of the
estate can create practical problems.
A Will could contain a list of particular items to go to designated beneficiaries.
Indeed, the Will of William Shakespeare is famous for having left Anne Hathaway his
‘second-best bed’. Any list needs to be kept in line with your current wishes, which
could mean rewriting the Will each time you have a new grandchild or when your children
finally admit that their taste in furniture doesn’t actually include your treasured
That’s why people may prefer to include within their Will a reference to a ‘letter
of wishes’. This letter is not itself a formal part of the Will, so you can write
it yourself and update it as easily and as often as you wish. The letter sets out
what you want to happen to personal items – be that a specific list of gifts or perhaps
just some general indications such as letting friends choose a keepsake or two. The
Will asks the executors/trustees to follow this letter of wishes. However they are
not obliged to and can use their judgement to interpret your wishes according to
the situation at the time. That is great for providing flexibility, but it emphasises
that you must choose executors / trustees that you can rely on to interpret your
wishes appropriately. If you choose professional executors (who would not be keeping
any items for themselves) they can be impartial about the implementation of your
But just what are personal chattels? In everyday terms you might think of them as
the contents of your house – furniture, paintings, photographs, jewellery, collectibles
and so forth. However the formal definition is quite extensive and includes vehicles,
garden effects and also domestic animals (i.e. pets). Amongst this wide definition
usually there will be items with a sentimental value that far outweighs their monetary
worth. It does not include any item used wholly or partially for business.
It would be nice to think that amongst the ordinary items that fill our homes there
may be one or two valuable treasures. However that very possibility raises an extra
problem if a Will simply divides the entire estate into shares – especially if a
share is going to charity. Each beneficiary must receive their entitlement, but for
a charity that amounts to an obligation to make sure that they receive full value.
This can result in the bother of all the contents of the house having to be professionally
valued – even though the cost of the valuation might ultimately be more than the
value of the goods themselves. Hence it is often a good idea to leave your personal
chattels to just one person or, if to be shared, then only between individuals who
will be able to agree easily how to divide them.
Whilst creating a Will is a serious matter, one particular client has taken the opportunity
to remind her family of her sense of fun. By her fireplace she keeps a large number
of brass ornaments which need frequent polishing. For one of her sons it is always
a source of banter that she should get rid of them to save the bother of cleaning.
So, with a twinkle in her eye, she has included in her Will a gift of those very
items to that son. She knows that probably he will not keep them long, but by making
the gift she will have left him an invaluable reminder of their good relationship.
Often when creating a Will we focus on distributing the high worth items and the
overall total value. However, it is also important to consider the sentimental value
of your personal chattels and give a thought to the practical problems and expense
that they might cause for your executors when trying to put your Will into practice.
Items of sentimental value can be just as important as our money - what are the considerations
when making a Will?