The Benefits of Specific Bequests and Memoranda
Dividing one’s personal property upon death can be a contentious matter. If an item of personal property is not specifically gifted to an individual, there is a chance that the beneficiaries may find themselves litigating.
A specific bequest can provide clarity. Pursuant to Black’s Law Dictionary, a specific bequest is “a legacy of a specified property or chattel to a particular person that is detailed in a will.” We have previously blogged on the use of specific bequests.
Another way to give personal property is through the use of a memorandum attached to the will. This memorandum may be updated to list all of the personal property being gifted, and can either be binding (assuming certain requirements are met) or precatory. We have previously blogged on the use of a memorandum to give personal property.
The use of a specific bequest or a memorandum may help to avoid battles over personal property. If personal property is not given to an individual through a specific bequest, an individual may receive items through a percentage division of either such property (e.g. “to be equally split between my two sons”), or the residue.
One possible issue with giving a percentage division of property or leaving residue to the beneficiaries, is that they may fight over specific items. This is what is happening with the Estate of Audrey Hepburn. In Audrey Hepburn’s will, she left a storage locker as part of the inheritance for her two sons. The locker was filled with various items including fashion accessories, posters, awards, scripts, and pictures, and was to be shared equally. Her two sons are now in dispute over who gets to keep what items in the locker. If Hepburn were to have specified the items to be given, it is possible that this inheritance dispute could have been avoided.
While specific bequests and memoranda are helpful in certain circumstances, it is important to consider the potential value of the bequest before gifting it. Valuations are important in order to ensure that the property being gifted is truly representative of the testator’s intention in leaving the property. For example, an individual may decide to leave each of her sons a separate painting. Without a valuation, this seems like an equitable arrangement. With a valuation, however, it may be that one painting is worth $300.00, and the other is worth $3,000.00. Equalizing the value of personal property may be an important consideration in making a specific bequest in order to avoid potential litigation.
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