Clients often ask me, "What if I want someone to get a particular item of personal property after I die?" The answer is simple - make sure your living trust contains the gift. In the distribution section of most living trusts, the issue of personal property is addressed. In some cases, there are specific gifts actually written into the document. For example, it might say, "My trustee shall distribute my jewelry to my cousin Mary....etc." However, in California you are allowed to refer to an external document. In most cases, that is a better alternative in case you want to make changes in the future.
This external written instruction can have many names, but I usually title mine "Instructions Regarding Distribution of Personal Property." Therefore, your living trust can refer to this external document that you can add to and subtract from over the years. The key is to make your gifts very clear. Don't just say, "I give my vase to my nephew Joey" because if you have more than one vase, it can cause confusion. Clarity is of paramount importance when it comes to these instructions. Some clients take photos of the item and indicate clearly who the intended recipient is. The main drawback I've noticed when including gifts within the trust document is that it's difficult to make changes as time goes on. You have to make a formal amendment. Using an external writing is much easier and more flexible.
Robert Mansour is a lawyer in Santa Clarita, California. He serves Valencia, Canyon Country, Saugus, Newhall, Castaic, Stevenson Ranch, and beyond. If you have interest in creating an estate plan to protect yourself and your family, give Robert a call at (661) 414-7100.