The Lawletter Vol 44 No 4
Matthew McDavitt—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group
The phrase "personal effects" is a descriptor that commonly leads to litigation regarding its usual or intended scope. Unqualified, the word "effects" in a testamentary context generally denotes personal property of any description. Adler v. First-Citizens Bank & Trust Co., 4 N.C. App. 600, 603, 167 S.E.2d 441, 443 (1969). However, pairing the adjective "personal" with the noun "effects" expressly modifies and limits its scope:
The adjective "personal" would be unnecessary and useless if it did not restrict the meaning of "effects," which standing alone would have covered all personalty. . . . [T]he words "personal effects" . . . [usually] cover only those articles of tangible personal property that in their use or intended use had some intimate connection with the person of the testatrix.
Gaston v. Gaston, 320 Mass. 627, 628, 70 N.E.2d 527, 528 (1947). Thus, "[t]he term 'personal effects' ordinarily does not include cash and property held for investment." Beasley v. Wells, 55 So. 3d 1179, 1185 (Ala. 2010); In re Estate of Stengel, 557 S.W.2d 255 (Mo. Ct. App. 1977) (the term "personal effects" meant tangible property worn or carried about the person or tangible property having some intimate relation to the person of the testatrix; the term did not include the bonds, stocks, savings and loan accounts, cash, coins, or currency).Read More