Most attorneys who represent clients in probate and estate administration will say the same thing: The most bitter and protracted family disputes are not, at their core, about money. Instead, families can spend exorbitant amounts of time and money in attorneys’ fees, and sometimes forever destroy relationships, fighting over the deceased’s treasured personal property items: the family china, an old photo, a favorite locket necklace. Even when these items may not possess much monetary value, they may hold great sentimental value.
RCW 11.12.260 provides guidance for how to avoid these disputes by distributing your personal property upon your death through a writing, often referred to as “Personal Property Addendum.” What is a Personal Property Addendum? RCW 11.12.260(1) states:
(1) A will or a trust of which the decedent is a grantor and which by its terms becomes irrevocable upon or before the grantor’s death may refer to a writing that directs disposition of tangible personal property not otherwise specifically disposed of by the will or trust other than property used primarily in trade or business. Such a writing shall not be effective unless: (a) An unrevoked will or trust refers to the writing, (b) the writing is either in the handwriting of, or signed by, the testator or grantor, and (c) the writing describes the items and the recipients of the property with reasonable certainty.
For example, John’s Will contains a Personal Property Addendum. The Will itself specifically refers to the Addendum. John handwrites the following in the Addendum: “I give my Wilson tennis racket, autographed by Roger Federer, to my niece Joanne Smith.” Since this writing is in the handwriting of the testator and describes the item and the recipient with reasonably certainty, this distribution is valid pursuant to Washington law.
What types of contingencies can occur in relation to the Personal Property Addendum? RCW 11.12.260(2) states:
(2) The writing may be written or signed before or after the execution of the will or trust and need not have significance apart from its effect upon the dispositions of property made by the will or trust. A writing that meets the requirements of this section shall be given effect as if it were actually contained in the will or trust itself, except that if any person designated to receive property in the writing dies before the testator or grantor, the property shall pass as further directed in the writing and in the absence of any further directions, the disposition shall lapse and, in the case of a will, RCW 11.12.110 shall not apply to such lapse.
Using the example above, if Joanne predeceases John, the gift of the Federer racket will lapse. The Federer racket will instead be distributed as part of John’s residuary estate as set forth in his Will.
Suppose you change your mind about who should receive the personal property item? RCW 11.12.260(3) states:
(3) The testator or grantor may make subsequent handwritten or signed changes to any writing. If there is an inconsistent disposition of tangible personal property as between writings, the most recent writing controls.
Using the example above, if John has a fight with Joanne, he can cross out the distribution to Joanne in the Addendum and instead handwrite: “I give my Wilson tennis racket, autographed by Roger Federer, to my nephew Martin Smith.” This revised distribution is allowed under Washington law because revisions to a Personal Property Addendum do not need to meet the same execution requirements as revisions to a Will.
Finally, it is important to use the Personal Property Addendum only in relation to distributing personal property. RCW 11.12.260(4) states:
(4) As used in this section “tangible personal property” means articles of personal or household use or ornament, for example, furniture, furnishings, automobiles, boats, airplanes, and jewelry, as well as precious metals in any tangible form, for example, bullion or coins. The term includes articles even if held for investment purposes and encompasses tangible property that is not real property. The term does not include mobile homes or intangible property, for example, money that is normal currency or normal legal tender, evidences of indebtedness, bank accounts or other monetary deposits, documents of title, or securities.
Do you have any questions about using a Personal Property Addendum? We’d be happy to help!