topic | distribute non-probate assets

Step 2: distribute personal items

Personal property includes items that belonged solely to the deceased. This may include real estate, vehicles, jewelry, artwork, guns, coin or other collections, pets, season tickets, or anything else of significant value. These items should be inventoried and disbursed by the executor.

A Personal Property Memorandum may determine who gets what items. If this has not been created, items will be distributed or sold according to the guidelines of the Will or by the judgment of the executor. If there is a surviving spouse, then the personal property becomes his or her own.

Some states allow for personal items to be distributed outside of probate. These items must have minimal monetary value, and there must not be a dispute over their distribution. Personal Property or the written inventory completed in the Topic: Inventory and Appraisal and Personal Items may help identify personal items for distribution.

Best Practices

When considering personal property, remember that belongings may have sentimental as well as monetary value. Be mindful of both aspects when considering distribution.

Activity 1
Inventory Personal Property

Use Personal Property as a tool. Real Estate Records may contain useful information.

  • Check the house, storage facilities, safe deposit boxes, safes and files for monetary and sentimental valuables.
  • Keep any titles, deeds or appraisal documents in a safe place.
  • In order to sell an item, you may need a copy of the death certificate and court-appointed papers (Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration).

Best Practices

One person should never complete the inventory of personal property alone. Enlist the help of another family member or heir. This limits the liability of a single person sorting through valuables and creates accountability.

Activity 2
Distribute Personal Property

If there is a Will or Personal Property Memorandum, distribute items as directed. If there is no Will or Personal Property Memorandum, consider how items should be distributed:

  • Informal distribution may be appropriate when family members and heirs do not live close by and perhaps do not have strong interest in specific items.
    • Requests for specific items may be submitted to the executor.
    • When possible, family members or heirs may come to choose items.
    • The executor may select items using their own discretion for distribution between heirs and family members.
  • Formal distribution may be appropriate when family members and heirs live close by and have strong interests in specific items.
    • Gather family members and heirs at an appointed time.
    • Take turns selecting items.
    • Items may be sorted by size or value to aid in equal distribution.
  • If the estate is insolvent, items may need to be sold to cover estate debts. An estate attorney may assist in determining what must be sold. Consider:
    • Property such as an empty home or unused vehicle cost the estate money the longer they sit idle.
    • Valuables that sit in an empty home are vulnerable to theft.
  • Consider selling unwanted valuables in an estate sale or auction.

Best Practices

There should be no surprises! Notify family members and heirs in advance of the way items will be distributed. Opinions and disputes over items may be uncovered.

Activity 2
Donate Remaining Personal Items

  • Contact local charities. Is there a specific charity the deceased was associated with?
  • Verify the type of items they will accept such as furniture, small appliances, and clothing.
  • Inquire whether they will pick up the items.

(if this Step is complete)
to Step 3

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