The term “chattels” invokes the language from a time when Britain had an Empire and people were concerned with what would happen to their carriages and horses after they had passed.
According to the Administrations of Estates Act 1925, “Personal Chattels” means carriages, horses, stable furniture and effects (not used for business purposes) motor cars and accessories (not used for business purposes) garden effects, domestic animals, plated articles, linen, china, glass, books, pictures, prints, furniture, jewellery, articles of household or personal use or ornament, musical and scientific instruments and apparatus, wines, liquors and consumable stores, but does not include any chattels used at the death of the intestate for business purposes nor money or securities for money.
The statutory definition of personal chattels was updated in 2014 as part of the Inheritance and Trustees Powers Act 2014 and the definition of personal chattels is now defined as tangible movable property other than any such property which consists of money of securities for money or was used at the death of the intestate solely or mainly for business purposes or was held at the death solely as an investment.
So, any personal goods other than “money, securities for money or property used solely or mainly for business purposes” falls into the definition of chattels, so it is quite a broad definition, and it has clearly moved on from just horses and carriages.
Chattels can often have sentimental value, and are not always high value items. It is common practise for people to make specific gifts of items in their Wills such as pieces of jewellery to a named person. This is an excellent way of ensuring that a specific chattel goes to the intended beneficiary.
If a deceased’s Will does not refer to what is to happen to their chattels, then they will fall into the residue of the estate to be split between the beneficiaries.
Chattels or Fixtures?
As an aside, the law distinguishes between chattels and fixtures when it comes to buying and selling property. As we know now, a chattel is a movable property. A fixture is a chattel that has been fixed or attached and can no longer be easily moved. For example, curtains would be classed as a chattel, whereas a built-in bookcase would be a fixture.
In a Will, it is worth considering gifting high value items which may be held as a significant investment as identified items of estate and not simply as chattels especially when they have been used for business purposes. In that instance such articles should be listed as specific legacies rather than simply fall into the residuary of an individual’s estate.
The key take away is that chattels are movable items, that are not used for business purposes – and they can be of any value.