Getting Certain Things To Certain People – Why Does It Matter?

Think for a moment about the most valuable things you own.  If your house was on fire, what would you grab on your way out?  For most of us, our most treasured possessions are pictures of our kids, gifts from our parents, or things that remind us of meaningful relationships and experiences.

Often, our most valued possessions are not the ones that are worth a lot of money.

Of course, it’s important to leave your funds and land to the right heirs. But years down the road, when the money is invested or spent, and the property has been sold or built on, those things probably won’t be what makes your family members think of you and smile. 

It’ll be the ring that was your 16th birthday present, the handmade wooden trunk you built, the cookbook of favorite recipes written in your handwriting, or the antique china you used to make get-togethers feel special. 

These kinds of possessions represent a life and a person more than money ever could. It’s no wonder that when you look at certain personal items, you also think of loved ones whom you hope will cherish those pieces of you after you’ve gone.

But as you get older, collect more possessions, gain more perspective, and live through relationships that change over time, it can be hard to keep track of who you want to receive what.  How do you go about getting certain things to certain people at the end of your life, and what do you need to know about it before you plan your estate?

How to Plan Ahead Now So You Can Get Certain Things To Certain People Later

There are three pieces of advice we regularly give to people who are concerned about getting certain things to specific people:

ONE: Don’t Put Them In The Specifics Of Your Will

During the estate planning process, clients will often come to us with a list of personal items they want designated to go to certain people when they die. But we pretty much always recommend they don’t include those specifics in their Last Will and Testament.

Why? Because a will is very difficult to change once it has been written and notarized, we find that people tend to change their minds about personal possessions fairly regularly.

You can’t handwrite anything into an official will, and even small amendments are an expensive hassle that must be carried out in the same way as the original document, with official notarized witnesses. 

(Related: Want to find out more about the Virginia state requirements you must meet for your will to be valid? Click here.)

But we recognize how important it is for you to make sure your important items get to the right people. Instead of putting these kinds of wishes in your Will, we recommend our clients create what’s called a Gifts and Memories List.

TWO: Create A Gifts and Memories List

A Gifts and Memories List (sometimes referred to as a personal property memorandum) is a document you and your attorney can create to go along with your Will.

It’s simply a list that helps you in getting certain things to certain people. The only stipulations are that it HAS to be used for personal property (cannot be applied to finances or land), it has to be referred to in your Will, and it has to be signed by you. 

Whether big or seemingly insignificant, you can add any possessions to the Gifts and Memories List that you want.  And it’s got three great perks that a will can’t provide for you anyway:

  • It can be mandatory or not:

You can dictate that the Executor of your estate either follow your Gifts and Memories List to the letter, or that they just try to follow it the best they can, using their own discretion. If your Executor is someone you trust (as they should be!), you might not need to hold them to this with the law’s authority. And if they are close to you and your heirs, they’ll be able to use wisdom in distributing your personal property.

  • It can be altered at any time:

If a relationship changes, one of your heirs dies, or you have a light bulb moment and remember something important that you haven’t designated yet, you can change your Gifts and Memories List quickly and conveniently by simply writing and signing a new one. No witnesses, notaries, or other formalities are required.

(If you need copies of this form, download our free Gifts and Memories List Template Sheet .)

  • It can be a general guide for you right now:

Use your Gifts and Memories List as a sort of guide for right now. You’ll probably add to and change it as the years pass by. So don’t think of it as some huge decision that you need to have all the details of worked out immediately. It also might give you some perspective on what you want to save to be passed on after your death, and what you’d rather give away while you’re still living. 

THREE: Give Things Away While You’re Still Living

The third way to guarantee getting certain things to certain people is pretty obvious – give things away now, before you die. As you get older, you might naturally find yourself beginning to gift household items to people you love anyway. 

And we generally recommend it – decluttering and giving things you don’t need anymore to others who will use them is always helpful; it relieves a bit of what your Executor will have to deal with after you pass.

But we also advise you to think about your particularly special items. Are there things you’re emotionally able to part with now so that you can enjoy watching your loved ones receive them? That’s half the joy of giving a gift, isn’t it?

You’ll have to evaluate for yourself when you are ready to give things away. There’s no right or wrong way to do it, but if you’re considering things ahead of time, you might be able to make things easier and more meaningful for your family. 


Ready to start planning your estate? Schedule an appointment and let us help you get started!

Or, if you’ve already created your estate plan, but need to make or update your Gifts and Memories List, download our Gifts and Memories List Template Sheet.