Chattels.

A word that may incite considerable emotion in people due to its association with slavery because unfortunately when slavery was legal, slaves were considered the personal property of their owner. The word chattel means personal possession.

A Chattels clause deals with a testator’s moveable personal property such as jewellery, art work, cars and even things like caravans and boats. It does not cover immoveable property such as a person’s home.

Many people will be familiar with the idea of leaving gifts in a Will  – such as a parent leaving their wedding ring to a child or a piece of artwork to a friend. When the gift is something identifiable like a wedding ring then this may be best dealt with by the specific legacy. This article looks at Chattel clauses and their ability to provide a blanket provision for all of a person’s possessions rather than naming them individually. 

Legal Nugget – Pets are Possessions

People often want to know what will happen to their pets when they die. I have had clients wanting to leave them significant sums of money to ensure their standard of living is maintained. The legal position is clear – pets are possessions, not legal entities, and you cannot leave your pets money.

This doesn’t mean provisions can’t be put in place to ensure their welfare and comfort – but this is something that needs to be carefully thought through.

Very importantly, if you are considering this issue please ensure the provisions are made not just for Mr. Tiddles but also for any successor he may have.

Chattels clauses are not required in a Will and in some cases are not necessary. However there are many situations where the flexibility they offer greatly benefits the Estate.

Example Scenario

An Estate consists of a large art collection. The testator is an artist so the collection increases regularly and decreases when items are sold or given away. Leaving pieces via specific legacies would potentially be problematic because whilst it would be accurate at the time of the Will – and would provide clarity to the beneficiaries, it would create a risk that some of the legacies would no longer be in the Estate at the time of death. 

e.g. the testator’s Will leaves a legacy of, ‘My still life of sunflowers in a green vase with the dark oak frame’  to their best friend but a year later sells this piece. The best friend would lose out.

In the above the testator would be wise to consider a chattels clause giving their possessions to the executors to be guided by a letter of wishes. The testator can then write a very detailed set of guidance which can be updated whenever the testator wishes or if not then the executors get to use their discretion – which would hopefully result in the best friend getting something. 

It must be said that chattel clauses don’t guarantee a smooth process. I am familiar with a similar matter and 13 years later the Estate is yet to be fully distributed because of the sheer number of items and beneficiaries.

If you want to leave things to your friends and family I would strongly suggest seeking legal advice on the best way to achieve this.

As these articles show, whilst Wills are in essence quite simple documents, their ability to cause problems and to go wrong are limitless – it’s always best to have them professionally drafted.

If you wish to discuss your Will needs please get in touch with our Private Wealth Team. If you would like to discuss any problems regarding a Will please contact our Trusts, Wills and Probate Disputes team.

The contents of this article are intended as guidance for readers. It can be no substitute for specific advice. Consequently we cannot accept responsibility for this information, errors or matters affected by subsequent changes in the law, or the content of any website referred to in this article. © Mundays LLP.

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