Gifting Your Stuff – A Tangible Personal Property List Primer

June 28th, 2022 - Colin R. Morrow

It used to be that if you had physical stuff (also known as tangible personal property or “TPP” for short) you wished to pass on at death to someone in particular (for example, “I give grandma’s diamond ring to cousin Tansy” etc.) then that gift language needed to be written into your will. That’s easy enough to do, but what if you change your mind later? Do you really have to formally amend or re-do your will just to change or delete the gift to cousin Tansy? If that gift language is in the will then, unfortunately, the answer is yes. This can obviously be a major hassle for such a minor change. Thankfully, however, many states, including Washington, have recognized the need for simplicity and flexibility with gifts of TPP by allowing for the creation of legally-binding TPP lists. Washington’s TPP list law dates back to 1984 and is presently codified at RCW 11.12.260. Today, the TPP list has become an important part of the Washington estate planning toolkit and it’s important for anyone looking to establish or update their estate planning to be aware of and understand its use.

Essentially, Washington’s TPP list law allows you to designate beneficiaries of specific items of TPP by writing out a list containing specific items and the beneficiaries who are to receive those items. The beneficiary can be a specific person (“cousin Tansy”), a class of people (“my nephews”), or a non-person entity like a charitable or religious organization (“The World Wildlife Fund” or “my church”). The TPP being gifted can also be a specific item (“my 2003 Toyota Tacoma”) or a class of items (“my coin collection”). This list is a separate document from your will but, crucially, it will become a legally-binding part of your will so long as your TPP list is found with your will and either (a) in your own handwriting; or (b) signed and dated by you (for typed lists). I usually provide my clients with a TPP list template, but even a simple sheet of paper will suffice. The beauty of the TPP list is that, unlike your will, the TPP list can be revised at any time without the need for formalities like witnesses or notarization. For this reason, I usually encourage my clients not to fret about getting their TPP list done at the same time as their will. So long as the will is in place, one can work on creating or revising a TPP list at home and at one’s leisure. It can be created, revised, destroyed and recreated at any time, as often as one wants, without any need to worry about making corresponding revisions to one’s will. Ideally it will be something that evolves over time as the years pass and as specific items of TPP come and go.

While the TPP list is a powerful tool, one must always keep in mind that it can only be used to make gifts of things that actually fall under the category of tangible personal property. Here’s how Washington’s TPP law defines what is tangible personal property and what is not:

[A]rticles of personal or household use or ornament, for example, furniture, furnishings, automobiles, boats, airplanes, jewelry, and collectibles, 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.

As you can see, TPP encompasses pretty much all physical property that one could own, with the exception of cash (which is considered intangible) and real estate (real estate, or “real property” in legal parlance, is its own category of property). If you want to make a gift of intangible property (a cash gift being the classic and most common example) or real estate, then such gifts would still have to be written into one’s will.

While I find that many clients don’t necessarily think (at least initially) they have any TPP items that a specific person would want, I believe it’s still important to be aware of the existence, purpose, and limitations of the TPP list. It’s a tremendously useful, practical tool and, so long as one’s will and other estate planning is in place, it is there to be used if and when the time comes.

Disclaimer: This article and blog are intended to inform the reader of general legal principles applicable to the subject area. They are not intended to provide legal advice regarding specific problems or circumstances. Readers should consult with competent counsel with regard to specific situations.

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