The legal definition of personal property is “anything besides land that may be subject to ownership”.  Thus, the main characteristic of personal property is that it is movable, unlike real property or real estate. 

There are two basic types of personal property:  tangible and intangible.  Tangible property is personal property that can be physically handled, such as clothes, jewelry, furniture, etc.  Intangible personal property is property that can’t be physically handled, such as stocks, trust fund accounts, etc. 

How Does the Definition of Personal Property Compare With Real Property?

As mentioned, real property is defined as any property that is land, or attached to/affixed to the land.  This includes buildings and crops.  The idea here is that real property can’t be moved, whereas personal property can’t be moved.  Also, there is a basic assumption that most real property has a higher value than personal property (though this certainly isn’t always the case).

What are Some Legal applications of Real vs. Personal Property?

The difference between the legal definitions of real vs. personal property can be seen in many areas of law.  For instance, in contract law, sales of real property must always be in writing, whereas not all personal property sales contracts need to be written.  Some other legal implications of real and personal property may involve:

  • Personal property tax consequences
  • Divisions of property in a divorce or separation setting
  • Property distributions in a will or trust
  • Descriptions of property in a title deed
  • Personal property contracts
  • Distributions of property when a business is sold
  • Various other applications

Thus, it’s helpful to know whether property is classified as real or personal.  Some “personal” property items may become real property, for instance, if an item is attached to a building or if materials are made into a gate or fence attached to the land.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Legal Definitions of Personal Property?

The definition of personal property can create additional complexities in many legal claims.  You may wish to hire a property lawyer if you need assistance with any property matters.  Lawsuits over personal property may result in a damages award or other similar remedies.  Your attorney can provide you with legal representation throughout the process.