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What is Personal Property?

Nicole Madison
Updated May 16, 2024
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In general, personal property is defined as property that is movable. In defining this type of property, people usually use real estate as a comparison, as real estate is fixed property that is unlikely to be moved to a new location. Personal property, however, typically includes such things as cars, jewelry, clothing, appliances, and computers, as these things can be moved from place to place. Often, this type of property is divided into two basic categories: tangible and intangible. Tangible personal property includes property a person can physically touch, while intangible property cannot be touched, such as a copyright.

Another way of distinguishing personal property from real property is by considering how long the property is likely to last. For example, real estate that it attached to the ground is likely to last for far longer than a computer, car, or boat, under most circumstances. Likewise, land is considered real property, regardless of whether or not a building has been built on top of it. Property that is located on top of that land, as long as it can be moved, is often considered personal.

In many cases, living things can be considered personal property. In many jurisdictions, for example, livestock and pets fit in this property category, as they can be moved from place to place. Sometimes plants are considered personal property as well. For example, if a person purchases and plants rosebushes, the rosebushes may be considered personal property. This may be due to the fact that a person may remove rosebushes from the ground and plant them in a different location.

There are many different types of tangible personal property, and they may vary a good deal in terms of their value. Since this type of property can moved and touched, it includes a wide range of small items such as wallets, cell phones, and personal digital assistants (PDAs). Clothing and shoes are often included in this category as well. There is also an abundance of large items that may be considered personal, tangible property, such as washers and dryers; exercise equipment; cars; motorcycles; boats; and trucks.

Intangible property isn’t touchable, and it isn’t always visible either. Copyrights are an example of personal, intangible property. This category of property may also include stocks and bonds. While a person can see stock and bond certificates, he usually cannot see or touch the assets that the stock and bond certificates represent. Idea patents may be considered intangible property as well.

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Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison , Writer
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a MyLawQuestions writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.

Discussion Comments

By emtbasic — On Jul 05, 2011

@Starjo - How would you take an in-ground pool with you? Isn't it built into the ground? Or did you just take the filter, diving board and things?

Maybe I'm missing something here but I can't figure out how that would work.

By BigManCar — On Jul 05, 2011

@ lighth0se33- I'm not a lawyer, but I think that something that you install or permanently add to a rental place becomes the property of your landlord in many cases.

Now, since you planted flowers it isn't really the same as adding, say, a built-in dishwasher or a brick paver patio, and I doubt your landlady would make an issue out of something so small anyway, but I'd be interested to see what the legal status of the flowers would be.

By KLR650 — On Jul 04, 2011

@shell4life - There's a famous quote by Picasso (later attributed by some to John Lennon) that says, "Good artists copy, great artists steal." Some people seem to take that a bit to literally, especially in the digital age when things can be copied and moved around so easily.

Were you able to get the copyrights for everything? Is this something that an average working person can afford, even if they do it the more efficient way?

By kylee07drg — On Jul 04, 2011

It makes me sad that animals are considered personal property. When I think of property, I think of inanimate objects.

In spite of this categorization, pets do have rights. Some states have passed laws prohibiting chaining or tethering a dog for more than 24 hours, and even during that time, they must be provided shelter, water, and food.

I think as time goes on, more states will get more laws protecting animals from being treated like objects with no feelings. It would be nice if they could one day be considered something other than just personal property.

By shell4life — On Jul 03, 2011

I had written a good collection of songs, and I wanted this intangible personal property legally documented. I applied to get my album copyrighted, because I worked around musicians I didn't know and desperate songwriters suffering from writer's block.

You'd be surprised how often people try to steal each other's songs. They try to alter pieces here and there, but they take your hook and make it so you can never use your own song again because it will resemble their version too closely.

It can get expensive to get copyright certificates for all your songs, so it's best to send them in as a body of work and pay one price. Type the lyrics to send in along with the recording.

By StarJo — On Jul 03, 2011

@lighth0se33 - Your landlady most likely knows the definition of personal property. She was probably hoping that you did not know you had all rights to your plants.

That is audacious that she asked you to leave something there that you paid for initially and spent money on later for things like fertilizer and mulch. I am glad that you took them with you.

My landlord wanted me to leave behind my in-ground swimming pool, and he even complained because he had potential tenants already interested in the place because of the pool. I asked him if he was familiar with personal property law, and he backed off.

By lighth0se33 — On Jul 02, 2011

I rented a home and lived there for three years before moving. During that time, I had planted hydrangea and chrysanthemum bushes, as well as tulip and gladiola bulbs.

I told my landlady that I would be moving out soon. She came by the next day and found me digging up my bulbs and bushes. She actually asked me to leave them there, because they added to the aesthetic value of the place!

I told her I was sorry, but these plants were personal property which I bought, planted, and maintained laboriously, so I wasn't going to leave them behind. She got kind of huffy and told me to be sure and fill in the holes with dirt and cover them with leaves.

By manykitties2 — On Jul 02, 2011

If you are ever looking to get a large loan or mortgage the bank will undoubtedly ask you about the value of your personal property. While they don't care about things like your clothes or trinkets, anything such as cars and property is a big thing to them. This kind of personal property can be used as security for loans, so if you default the bank can sell off your good in order to recoup costs.

I think that using your personal property, or tangible assets, to secure a loan is a great option for those who don't have a lot of cash on hand. It is important though to make sure you pay everything back on schedule as you don't want everything being taken by the repo man.

By lonelygod — On Jul 01, 2011

Keeping a solid record of all of your personal property is very important if you are looking for insurance to cover your household.

Knowing what you have in your home and insuring it properly can allow you to rest easier knowing that in the case of a fire or other disaster that your belongings will be at the very least, replaced monetarily.

For myself, I always keep receipts from big ticket items and make sure that I have photos of just about everything that I buy. It is easy to store a flash drive in a fireproof safe. This can be a perfect record of your things.

By starrynight — On Jun 30, 2011

@indemnifyme - Interesting point and thanks for the hint. I've been considering getting a renters policy and I think I'm convinced. I will be sure to ask for actual cash value reimbursement!

By indemnifyme — On Jun 30, 2011

This article caught my eye because I work in insurance. I write policies to protect personal property all the time. Homeowners, renters, and condo policies are a few of the most popular types I usually see.

A lot of us don't consider our personal property as an asset, but it certainly can cost a lot to replace! It's always a good idea to have insurance on your personal property but not all policies are created equal.

One hint I would offer is to pay attention to how you're going to be reimbursed in the event you file a claim. The two most popular ways are replacement cost of actual cash value. I think replacement cost is the best because it basically replaces your item with another of the same value without accounting for depreciation. Actual cash value takes depreciation into account and often means you'll get much less money to replace your property.

Nicole Madison

Nicole Madison


Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a MyLawQuestions writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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