Everyone's Affected by Property Transfer
Marlene S. Stum, Extension Specialist and Professor — Family Social Science
Reviewed February 2012 by the author.
Everyone has personal belongings such as wedding photographs, a baseball glove or a yellow pie plate that contain meaning for them and for other family members. Paring down and transferring such items is inevitable when a family member moves or dies. This is an issue impacting families regardless of their financial worth, heritage, or cultural background.
It is an issue that affects everyone.
On this page
How You May Be Affected
The issue of passing on personal property is often assumed to be unimportant or an issue that just takes care of itself. The experiences of family members and attorneys suggest otherwise. Decisions about personal belongings — also known as non-titled property — are often more challenging than decisions about titled property or financial wealth and may lead to family disagreements.
Decisions to pass on personal possessions are made within the context of long, complex, and sometimes complicated relationships typically among a variety of family and friends. Inheritance decisions can have powerful consequences for siblings, parents, in-laws, step-siblings, spouses from remarriages, domestic partners, same-sex partners, adopted children, and others who consider themselves family and friends. Such decisions involve dealing with the emotional and potential financial value connected to objects accumulated over a lifetime and across generations of family members.
Who gets personal property is an issue frequently ignored until a crisis occurs. Decision making becomes more challenging and sensitive when people are grieving, selling the home they grew up in, or facing the increased dependence of an elder.
Few individuals have planned ahead regarding who should get what personal belongings. When there is no will, or no separate listing identifying the wishes of the property owner, family members are left with many dilemmas and decisions regarding the passing on of personal possessions.
What are the "pie plates" in your life? Are you prepared for the challenges?
What is Non-Titled Property?
Non-titled property is a term referring to personal items without a legal document (such as a title or deed) to indicate who officially owns the item. These personal possessions may have monetary worth, or they may be cherished primarily for their sentimental value. Non-titled property can include such items as:
- Sporting equipment
- Family documents
- Linens and needlework
- Musical instruments
Six Factors to Consider
Research has identified six key factors to think about as you plan for the transfer of your own personal property, or as you work with family members or legal representatives to plan the transfer of property of someone who has already died.
- Understand the sensitivity of the issue of transferring non-titled property. Read a Story
- Determine what you want to accomplish in the transfer. Read a Story
- Decide what is "fair" in the context of your family. Read a Story
- Understand that belongings have different meanings for different individuals. Read a Story
- Consider distribution options and consequences. Read a Story
- Agree to manage conflicts if they arise. Read a Story
What is Your Role?
Planning for the transfer of personal belongings is a challenge facing owners and, potentially, family members and personal representatives of the estate (the estate executors) who may be left to make decisions when a family member dies. Most people play one or more roles during their lives. Here is a set of quizzes to help you decide if you are prepared for the challenges you may be facing. Take the quiz or quizzes related to your current or expected roles.
My role is a…
- Property owner considering how my personal belongings will be transferred — Take a Quiz
- Family member or friend, especially an adult child who is helping parents or parents-in-law — Take a Quiz
- Personal representative/executor carrying out a role in settling an estate — Take a Quiz
- Caring professional assisting a property owner or family: senior housing managers, funeral directors, elderlaw attorneys, estate planners, community educators, grief counselors, social workers, members of the clergy and others — Take a Quiz
Find out more about personal property and land transfer: