Common issues arising with chattels
In law, chattels are any items of tangible and moveable property, such as jewellery or artwork or antiques,’ explains Nicola Dalzell, partner and head of the wills and probate team with Tilly Bailey & Irvine. ‘When dealing with estates, all the person’s assets are included, even personal belongings of low or no value. As such, it is important to ensure any potential issues are avoided wherever possible.’
Often, because people might not realise that chattels need to be included and distributed as part of the estate, well-meaning family or executors might clear a property too promptly, getting rid of items that are meant to pass to a certain person or that should be valued to ensure the correct inheritance tax is paid.
Even if the executors clear the person’s home carefully, it could be the case that certain chattels included in the will cannot be found or have been lost or given away during the testator’s lifetime. In this case, the chattels cannot be gifted according to the will as the gift will fail due to the legal doctrine of ademption.
Where family members do not get along and are likely to disagree about certain items, if the will does not specify who should receive which personal belongings this can result in protracted disagreements.
Alternatively, a will could give executors too wide a discretion to pass chattels as they see fit. For example, a will might include a wish for a certain item of jewellery to pass to a particular family member, but if it is just a wish the executor will be free to sell the item instead or give it to a different beneficiary, causing the intended family member to miss out.