What Exactly Does “Personal Property” Mean?

While some think that personal property encompasses all property aside from real property, that’s not always true. In California the court will look at the specific language within a document and at times other evidence in order to determine the testator’s intent – exactly what property they intended to gift.

The best thing that you can do in a document gifting any property is to define exactly what you mean. This is because while some courts may interpret “personal property” as just a few small items, others may interpret it as all property. In order to determine this, the courts consider certain factors:

1. Whether an attorney drafted the document

If an attorney was the one who drafted the document, courts generally define the terms used in a more technical manner. This is because it is assumed that an attorney would write in technical terms.

2. Whether the document contains a residue clause

A will or a trust usually makes specific gifts to specific people. For instance, someone may put in their will that they wish to leave their coin collection to their daughter. Once all of the specific gifts are made, everything else that’s left is considered the residue. A residue clause leaves the residue to one or more individuals.

3. A comparison of the gift compared to other gifts in the same document

The court may also look at the nature of the gift compared to other gifts within the same document. For example, if a will contains a residue clause and a statement gifting “all my personal belongings and effects,” it’s likely that the court will not view all of the personal belongings and effects as meaning everything. However, if the document does not contain a residue clause, the court may view the same statement as meaning all property.

Ultimately, it’s important to understand that there is no singular interpretation of what personal property or personal belongings actually means. The most important factor of any estate-planning document is what the testator intended by using the terms that he or she did. However, different courts will still determine the testator’s intent differently.

Biddle Law Can Help

When you work so hard for all of your assets and want them to go to specific people and causes in a certain manner, you deserve to be able to do so. However, without a properly structured estate plan, you can actually create detrimental circumstances for your loved ones, rather than help them. This is why it’s so important to consult with a knowledgeable and experienced California probate attorney who knows the current laws and has experience dealing with the probate process.

At Biddle Law, we are here to answer all of your questions and walk you through the probate process. We care about your assets and your loved ones and want to help in any way we can. To learn more or to schedule a consultation, contact us today!