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What Is Tangible Property?

Mary McMahon
Updated: May 21, 2024

Tangible property is property which occupies physical space. People can hold this type of property and they can also see it. This is in contrast with intangible property, which cannot be physically touched and is not corporeal in nature. Within the law, there are many categories of tangible property which may be considered for purposes of taxation, valuing an estate, and so forth.

Some simple examples of tangible property include things like furniture, cars, and houses. All of these things can be seen and touched. In the case of furniture and cars, they can also be moved, as may occur when they are sold. For legal purposes, livestock are also considered tangible property. One might think of tangible property as physical property. Something like real estate is also considered immovable property because it cannot be relocated, although people can sell their rights to it, thus transferring ownership of the property to another party.

By contrast, intangible property is something like an interest in land, a stock certificate, or a bank account. These things have value but the value is representative rather than physical in nature. Someone cannot hold interest in land, a stock certificate represents ownership rather than having intrinsic value, and a bank account is not physical in nature. Easements are another example of intangible property since they involve a concept, not an actual physical thing.

Money is an interesting example of something which straddles the divide. Historically, cash currency was often viewed as intangible property, despite the fact that it could be seen and felt, because it was backed with gold or silver and thus represented value rather than having a value of its own. Today, such standards have been struck down, and currency may be considered tangible property because it is inherently valuable, rather than standing in for something sitting in a bank vault.

There may be cases in which the distinction between tangible and intangible property becomes important. Likewise, the difference between categories such as movable and immovable property can become crucial. For property taxes, for example, motor homes, even if people are living in a fixed location, are taxed differently than homes which have foundations, because one is technically movable and the other is not without leaving the foundation behind; one could relocate a motorhome, if desired, to another location, while a house cannot be wheeled away.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MyLawQuestions researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By letshearit — On Jul 01, 2011

A good way to make sure that your heirs don't fight over tangible and intangible property after your death is to make sure you have a solid will and someone who is willing to follow it when it comes time to distribute property.

Drafting a will than having a lawyer make sure it is suitable is a good idea for anyone with assets. While you may love your relatives and close friends, squabbles do happen over estates, and having your wishes followed should be a priority.

You can buy will kits at most bookstores for a low price. It is worth picking up one even if you know it will be a long time before it is ever used. You can update it as needed over your lifetime.

By manykitties2 — On Jun 30, 2011

If you are ever in need of a loan or mortgage the bank will go over your tangible property, as well as any intangible assets you have to assess whether or not you are fit for money lending.

In a bank's review process it is very important for them that you have assets that they could sell if you default on your loan. This is usually in the form of newer cars, property and houses.

Interestingly, anything else you own, such as nice electronics and furniture et cetera, is not considered in their assessment of tangible property. What banks are looking at are really things that carry a high resale value.

By nony — On Jun 30, 2011

@David09 - I don’t think the dollar is any more vulnerable to a decline in value than tangible personal property. All property can decline in value, including real estate, cars, cattle, you name it.

They are all subject to fluctuations in value. Even gold can pull back a little. I don’t believe it’s the tangible or the intangible nature of the asset that should be cause for concern.

Rather, it’s in the economic activity that backs it up. If you buy a share of stock, you are certainly buying risk; but if the company behind that share continues to do well, then you’re better off owning that share than buying a house in a community that has seen nothing but declining values.

By David09 — On Jun 30, 2011

When it comes to the definition of tangible property, I think the issue of money being tangible is a questionable one. When a currency collapses, it is certainly less tangible-in a practical sense-than when it’s stable.

The dollar has lost some of its value since the year 2000 and gold has since seen a comparable rise. The two are inversely related because gold is seen as tangible and something with inherent value, and it has held its value for thousands of years.

I had a conversation with someone much older than I where I argued that we should have adhered to the gold standard. He told me, however, that the dollar is strong, as it is backed by economic activity.

Despite the ups and downs of the economy, I agree that it’s unlikely the dollar would be headed for a total collapse; nonetheless, it can certainly can do so, which makes it less tangible in my opinion.

By Esther11 — On Jun 29, 2011

I'm sure it can be very difficult for the executor of the estate to try to divide property - tangible and intangible - equally among the recipients.

If some of the heirs have ownership in part of real estate property and some of the property is more valuable - what to do?

Tangible property, like furniture, household items, jewelry and treasured items can be difficult to divide equally because of personal desires.

Money is pretty easy to divide unless there is debt owned.

Stocks, mutual funds and such aren't too bad, as long as they are transferred.

If heirs are selfish and uncooperative, settlement of an estate can be a real pain!

By Clairdelune — On Jun 28, 2011

There is an interesting point about property taxes and immovable and movable housing. Motor homes, those that have wheels and can be moved from one place to another, and homes are taxed differently.

New ideas always seem to come up that complicate the laws. For example, in recent years, contractors and individual people have been building tiny houses of about 400 - 800 square feet. Then, being very clever, they put wheels on the structure and park it in a relative's or friend's back yard. Now, it can be moved around like a trailer.

I don't know if the legal system has yet figured out a way to tax this type of home.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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