Our personal possessions are often very precious to us, if not for their monetary value then for sentimental reasons. It is common to leave "personal chattels", as they are officially known, to someone close to us; but what exactly does the expression "personal chattels" include? The statutory definition, which has been in force since 1925, has recently been updated. It used to include a long list of items such as "pictures, prints, furniture and jewellery" as well as "horses, carriages, stable furniture", "motor cars" and "domestic animals". (Money and items used for business purposes are specifically excluded.)

The new definition, which applies from 1 October 2014, is intended to include all the same items but is cast in a different way. It is simply expressed as "tangible moveable property" other than money or property used at the date of death solely or mainly for business purposes. The addition of "solely or mainly" is helpful because the status of items with both business and personal use was previously unclear.

An important detail is that moveable property held solely as an investment is also now specifically excluded from the statutory definition and so, if this is to pass with the other chattels, it will have to be specifically added. Typical examples are wine or silver which are held exclusively as an investment, as the exclusion will not catch anything which involves some element of personal enjoyment, even if the item is also regarded as an investment.

Dealing with chattels after a death can be an emotional and difficult matter, so it is always worth taking care to identify them accurately and clearly specify their intended destination. On a practical level, it may sometimes be useful to make sure that the relevant people who will be dealing with the chattels know what they are, where they are and to whom they should pass after your death.