Describing Specific Gifts

Use simple and clear language to describe your specific gifts.

The first part of making a specific bequest in your Nolo’s Online Will is to describe the property you want to pass to the beneficiary or beneficiaries you have in mind.

When describing an item, be as concise as you can, but use enough detail so that people will be able to identify and find the property. For example, if you want to leave your guitar to your best friend, you would enter a brief description, like this: my 1959 Martin guitar.

Not All Property Passes by Will

Keep in mind that some property may not pass through your will. Types of property that commonly pass through a will include real estate such as a house or land, vehicles, bank accounts, and personal items such as household items, family heirlooms, art, jewelry or antiques. However, these types of property will only pass through your will if you have not made other arrangements for them.

Any property for which you have made other arrangements will not pass through your will. For example, these types of property will not pass through your will:

  • property in a trust (living trust, special needs trust)
  • property with a right of survivorship (joint tenancy, tenancy by the entirety, community property with the right of survivorship), and
  • property for which you have already named a beneficiary (TOD deeds or accounts, retirement benefits, life insurance).

Also, many types of digital assets cannot be passed through your will, see below.

Types of Property

Here are example descriptions of some different types of property.

Personal Items

It is usually adequate to briefly describe personal items and group them, unless they have significant monetary or sentimental value. For example, items of extremely valuable jewelry should normally be listed and identified separately, while a drawer full of costume jewelry and baubles could be grouped.

  • my Steinway piano
  • my collection of blue apothecary jars
  • my llama throw rug

Household Furnishings

You normally need not get very specific here, unless some object is particularly valuable. It is enough to list the location of the property:

  • all household furnishings and possessions in the apartment at 55 Drury Lane
  • my beige Ethan Allen sectional sofa

Real Estate

When describing real estate, provide the street address or, for unimproved property, the name by which it is commonly known.

  • my condominium at 123 45th Avenue
  • my summer home at 84 Memory Lane in Oakville
  • the vacant lot next to the McHenry Place on Old Farm Road

You need not provide the legal description from the deed.

Bank, Stock and Money Market Accounts

List gifts from financial accounts with enough detail to make the account identifiable, but do not include your entire account number. After death, wills become public documents -- so when describing the account, it's best to replace some of the digits with 'X's.

  • $20,000 from savings account #XXX-XXX-222 at Independence Bank, Idaho
  • my money market account #XX-XXXX-2056 at Beryl Pynch & Company, Illinois
  • 100 shares of General Foods common stock

Instead of fully describing accounts in your will, leave your executor a separate document with more explicit details. You can use your Letter to Survivors for this purpose.

Groups or Categories of Property

When describing your specific gifts, you can leave a group of gifts to one person (or more than one person) and you can also describe gifts using categories of property. Here are some examples:

Single item:

  • my red Persian rug
  • my wedding ring
  • my ipad

Group of items:

  • my red Persian rug, my wedding silver, and the portrait of my father
  • my’65 Mustang and my signed Nolen Ryan baseball card

Category of property:

  • my photo albums
  • my tennis equipment
  • my vase collection

Valuable Items

If an item is very valuable or could be easily confused with other property, make sure you include identifying characteristics such as location, serial number, color or another unique feature. Example:

  • my antique American Waltham pocket watch, serial number 25369, located in my top desk drawer.

Digital Assets

"Digital assets" is a broad term that includes a range of electronic records -- from social media accounts, to digital photos, to email, to online financial accounts. You can pass some types of digital assets through your will, but most digital assets transfer in other ways, or not at all.

As a general rule, all digital assets that you own and that have a monetary or tangible value will be included in your estate when you die. For example, funds in an online bank account, bitcoin, or digital music or photos that you own and store on your personal computer. Here is how you can describe those items.

  • any funds remaining in my PayPal account XXXXXXX7432
  • the photos of my trip to Kilimanjaro, stored in the Photos/2014 folder on the hard drive of my Sony laptop
  • all inventory and revenue from my Etsy shop “Trinity Knits.”

Practically speaking, however, most of your digital assets won't pass through your will, including your email accounts, licensed domains, subscriptions and shopping accounts, and downloaded software.

However, you can and should still make a plan for all of your digital assets—even if they don’t pass through your will. Learn more about Leaving Digital Assets Through Your Will.

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