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‘Personal effects’ are your belongings. These items will come up in discussions such as ‘who gets Mum’s recipe book?’ or ‘I want Dad’s grandfather clock.’

Thelma (better known as ‘Mum’ by my sister Louise and I) had very strong views as to who should receive her personal effects. Louise was to get the black cupboard. Brian was to have the inlaid table (and she would like him to take it now, thank you very much; it was cluttering up her house). Items of jewellery were to go to various grandchildren.

Even though Thelma’s Will made no reference to her personal effects or to who should get specific items, she gave very clear verbal instructions that were later carried out after her death.

Here we list some ways to deal with personal effects as part of your estate plan:

  1. Specific items are listed in the Will and given to specific, named beneficiaries.
  2. The personal effects are given to a person (usually the executor) to deal with as they see fit.
  3. There is no mention of personal effects in your Will, but a list of items you wish to give to named persons exists separately from your Will. Great care should be taken in using this approach to ensure that the “list” does not itself become the last Will of the deceased, which inadvertently and potentially disastrously revokes the formal Will!
  4. The disposal of personal effects is left to the discretion of the beneficiaries, even though there may have been verbal instructions given (as per the example of Thelma included above).

Ensuring your wishes are correctly executed requires striking a balance between listing precisely who gets what in your Will, and leaving the decision to the discretion of your executor or beneficiaries.

This can be a difficult challenge. At Tetlow Legal we are happy to advise you on these issues to ensure you get the balance right. Please contact myself or my partner Emma Bragg on (02) 6140 3263 or send us an email at mail@tetlowlegal.com.au.