Leaving A Memo or Letter With Your Will

Your Will is the place where you distribute certain types of property after your death. Anything that has a joint owner (like a house or a bank account) or a named beneficiary (like a retirement plan or insurance policy) will pass to the joint owner or beneficiary upon your death. Your other property is distributed by your Will.

Clients often want to know whether they should list distributions of jewelry and household items in their Will. In general, unless these are of very high value or you expect there to be disagreements among family members, you can list these items in a separate memorandum that can be changed and updated without having to change your Will.

Here are some tips about leaving this memo:

  1. Be as clear as possible when describing an item. Instead of writing “the artwork in the hall” write something like “the oil painting of the sail boat and the watercolor of the Smokey Mountains that are currently hanging in the hall.”
  2. Take picture of the items to include with the list.
  3. Include any appraisal or insurance information, especially for jewelry or artwork, and for things whose value may not be readily apparent.
  4. Leave a note about where the item came from, whether it was a given on a special occasion or inherited from a family member. Sentimental value is important.
  5. Include an alternate beneficiary in case your original intended recipient doesn’t want the item, or has predeceased you.
  6. Talk to family members ahead of time if you can, since you won’t be around to explain your decisions when the memo is being read.
  7. Sign and date the memo.
  8. Make sure your attorney has a copy of the memo, and that it is stored with your Will.  Get rid of older copies if you have made changes.



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