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Division of Personal Property in an Estate

Upon the death a loved one, the Last Will and Testament governs how the liquid assets of an Estate are distributed. It is also common that the Last Will and Testament may provide instructions as the distribution of some of the personal property of the Decedent. Even under such circumstances, however, this often leaves a large amount of personal property which has to be divided among the living heirs. There are several different ways in which the remaining items of personal property of the Decedent can be distributed which is discussed below.

If property is not expressly distributed under a Last Will and Testament, the heirs to the Estate will have to discuss how the Decedent’s personal property will be distributed. If the parties are able to agree upon the distribution of the property, then in that event, there may be some adjustments in the cash distributions each party receives should one party receive substantially more valuable personal property than the other. For example, if some of the personal property consisted of invaluable art, jewelry or other items, this can be offset as to the final distributions the heirs receive. In instances where valuable personal property is distributed, it is often suggested that an appraisal be obtained so that appropriate adjustments as to value can be made prior to final monetary distributions.

In most of Estates, there is a large amount of personal property which has little or no value. Under such circumstances, the heirs of the Estate should attempt to distribute the personal property amongst themselves. This often involves bargaining between the parties as to the distribution of personal property, however at times, can lead to a monetary payout so that one party can receive a cherished item. There is no set rule as to how the property is to be divided, but instead, the Court generally requires that the parties distribute the property as equally as possible.

If there are items of valuable personal property which cannot be agreed upon by the parties, the Court may be involved to resolve such issues. Typically, if both parties want an item of personal property and neither side relents, the Court can order the sale of the personal property, and thereafter, distribute the proceeds from the sale to the heirs of the Estate in the direct percentage that they were to receive under the Will.

As stated above, the distribution of a Decedent’s property can take place in several different manners. The above information provides general guidance as to the ways in which personal property may be distributed. At times, however, the parties may become creative and engage in negotiations and buyouts as well as trading of other items so that the personal property can be distributed. The only controlling factor which may come into play is that a party may not receive a higher percentage of the personal property then they would be entitled to as a monetary distribution under the Will unless agreed to by the other beneficiaries of the Estate. There is always hope that in the administration of an Estate that the personal property can be distributed without the intervention of the Court, however, should a party need an attorney to assist him in this regard they should retain competent counsel.

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About this Author

Paul Norris, Stark and Stark Law, Probate Litigation Lawyer, Construction Attorney, New Jersey
Shareholder

Paul W. Norris is a Shareholder and a member of the Firm’s Litigation Group. Mr. Norris’ areas of practice include: Probate Litigation; Construction Litigation; Commercial Litigation; and Criminal and Municipal Court representation. Mr. Norris has an extensive and growing Probate Litigation practice, which concerns either defending, or initiating Will contests on behalf of beneficiaries and purported beneficiaries of an Estate as well as related litigation. He has both prosecuted and defended actions successfully in this regard, and also serves as a Court appointed...

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