In Florida, up to two motor vehicles that are held in the decedent’s name and are regularly used as the decedent’s (or his immediate family’s) vehicle are generally exempt from the claims of creditors and can therefore be re-titled to immediate family members outside of a probate process.
A surviving spouse can, for example inherit the automobile by bringing a copy of the will and the death certificate to the county tax collector’s office to get it re-titled into her name without an attorney or court process. The same usually holds true for the decedent’s children.
Other vehicles, such as motor homes, boats, and large trucks must either be probated or are titled in a revocable trust to avoid the probate process. Since these assets all have a certificate of title to claim ownership, the family will need to follow some sort of legal process to distribute the asset to the intended beneficiary.
Tangible personal property, such as rings, watches, jewelry, china, guns, baseball card collections (and yes, even automobiles) are distributed pursuant to a separate list outside of the will or trust, so long as that list is referenced in the will or trust, the property is reasonably described, and is not used in a trade or business. The law requires that the list simply be signed and can be created either before or after the will or trust is made.
One of the more difficult questions involves the cost of shipping tangible personal property to the beneficiary. If the will or trust specifically addresses this question, then there is no question. But where the will or trust is silent, the personal representative or trustee can spend a reasonable sum shipping the items and charge the costs against the estate.
How about the shipment of a grand piano? Here it is probably reasonable for the beneficiary receiving the item to pay for some part or all of the cost of shipping. Otherwise, the remaindermen beneficiaries (those beneficiaries who receive a percentage of the estate after all of the specific bequests are made) indirectly bear the burden of the cost of shipment.
When there is no tangible personal property list, then the estate’s attorney should review the will and/or trust to determine the process under which the personal representative/trustee should offer and dispose of the property. Here, it is going to be important to have a valuation specialist identify tangible personal property assets that have any value, and to place a value on those assets.
In estates that must file a federal estate tax return, this is vitally important. Even though the tangible personal property is not subject to the probate process, it remains an asset of the estate that should be valued and should therefore appear on the federal estate tax return.
The personal representative/trustee may decide to hold a “round robin” selection, allowing each beneficiary to choose an item then rotate until everyone has an opportunity to make selections. The total value of the assets selected would then be counted as a distribution, and other assets such as money, stocks, bonds, and such can be adjusted so that at the end of the administration, all beneficiaries are treated fairly so that each ends up with the proper proportion of the value of the estate after considering all items inherited.
Usually, the estate will have a significant amount of tangible personal property that doesn’t have any value to anyone. Clothes, old furniture, costume jewelry, food, makeup, supplies, and similar items are more of a burden to dispose of than holding any value. After asking any of the beneficiaries if there are any such items that they would like, it makes sense to donate the bulk of it to charity. Another alternative is to seek an auctioneer or a consignment store to see if the estate can reap any value from these items.
More expensive items that none of the beneficiaries want should be auctioned or sold. Valuable artwork and jewelry, for example, can be valued and sold or consigned rather easily. So can automobiles that none of the beneficiaries desire.
Keep in mind that one of the main duties of the personal representative and trustee is to preserve the value of the assets of the estate.