The Advantages and Disadvantages of Referencing Separate Writings Containing Tangible Personal Property in a Will in Florida

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Pauline, a lifelong resident of Broward County, Florida, has finally decided to consult with an attorney about drafting a will. Included among the property she wishes to devise is her house, stocks, bonds, her car, savings accounts, and personal property contained inside her home.

An avid collector of antique vases for almost 30 years, Pauline has accumulated a large assortment that brings her much joy, although most of the pieces themselves are not valuable. Upon her death, she wishes to distribute specific vases among her many grandchildren.

As a general rule, it is difficult to successfully update or modify gifts in a will without executing a new will or create an amendment to a will, known as a codicil. Although it makes sense to update a will when one wishes to make significant modifications in regard to high-valued property or the people receiving under a will, it is often a far too complicated process when only tangible personal property, such as the antique vase collection, is concerned. Pauline is constantly adding new items to her collection, and as the proud mother of several children, welcomes a new grandchild into her life almost every year.

Florida Statute 732.515 provides a convenient exception to the rigid general rule described above. It allows a testator (the person creating a will) to maintain a list or statement that is referenced in a will instructing how to distribute tangible personal property. Thus, this provision of the Probate Code gives Pauline the ability to keep a running list of her personal property, such as her vase collection, and update it as often as she pleases without going through the formalities of updating her will.

Note, however, that only tangible personal property may be referenced in a separate writing under Florida Statute 732.515. Property such as Pauline’s house, stocks, bonds, car, savings accounts, etc. cannot be devised in this manner. Additionally, such tangible personal property may not have been used in trade or business, or be property that is otherwise disposed by the will itself.

To be valid, this separate writing must be signed by the testator and adequately describe the items of personal property and the people they are to go to with reasonable certainty. It is important to note that if more than one separate writing disposing of personal property in this manner exists, the most recent writing will control.

Most property of value, however, does not qualify for the limited exception granted by Florida Statute 732.515. Often times, making additions or modifications in a will requires the help of trained professionals to ensure they will be executed as intended. If you or someone you know lives in the West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale or Miami-Dade area, the probate team at Chepenik Trushin will help create a separate writing for the disposition of tangible personal property, or otherwise help you establish or modify a will. Please feel free to contact us for an initial consultation.