Memorandum Disposing of Tangible Personal Property

In Washington, the general rule is that a Washington resident may direct the disposition of probate assets at death only by Will.  Practically speaking, the only exception to this general rule is that a person may direct the disposition of tangible personal property at death by a writing other than his/her Will if the property is NOT:

  • Specifically disposed in his/her Will, and
  • Property used primarily in trade or business.  RCW 11.12.260(1)

For purposes of RCW 11.12.260:

“‘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.”  RCW 11.12.260(4)

To be valid, the writing must:

  • Be referred to in the Testator’s Will,
  • Be either:
    • In the Testator’s handwriting, or
    • Signed by the Testator, and
  • Describe the items and their recipients “with reasonable certainty.”  RCW 11.12.260(1)

One of the benefits of disposing of tangible personal property by this type of writing is that the Testator may either:

  • Revoke any existing writing, or
  • Make signed changes to any existing writing, or
  • Make one or more new writings adding further dispositions to those already made in existing writings …

without having to change his/her present Will or make a new Will.  If there is any inconsistency between or among such writings as to the disposition of property, the most recent writing controls.  RCW 11.12.260(3)

A typical Will clause providing for such a writing might be as follows:

Tangible Personal Property via Memorandum.  I intend to dispose of one or more items of my tangible personal property (other than cash or property used primarily in trade or business) by one or more writings either written in my handwriting or signed by me and directing their disposition following my death.  To the extent that I make one or more such writings, the writings describe the items and the recipients of the property with reasonable certainty, and the writings are found within 30 days following any appointment of a Personal Representative for me, I give those described items, together with any insurance on any specific item, to those of such described recipients who survive me by 30 days.

And a typical such writing might be in the following form:

Memorandum re Tangible Personal Property form.

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