Full Overview Of Chattels

Chattels, a term frequently encountered in legal and property discussions, refer to personal possessions that are movable and not affixed to real property. Understanding the concept of chattels is essential for various legal, financial, and estate planning contexts. At DLS Solicitors, we aim to provide a thorough overview of chattels, delving into their definitions, legal distinctions, tax implications, and practical considerations. This comprehensive guide will help you navigate the complexities associated with chattels, ensuring you are well informed and prepared for any related legal matters.

What are Chattels?

Chattels are items of tangible personal property that are moveable, as opposed to real property, which includes land and buildings. The term originates from the Old French word ‘chatel’, meaning ‘cattle’ or ‘movable property’. Over time, the definition has evolved to encompass a wide range of personal possessions, from furniture and vehicles to jewellery and artworks.

Key Characteristics of Chattels

  • Tangible and Moveable: Chattels are physical objects that can be moved from one place to another. This distinguishes them from fixtures and fittings, which are considered part of the real property.
  • Personal Possessions: Chattels include personal belongings and items used in daily life, such as household goods, clothing, and vehicles.
  • Exclusions: Certain items, such as money and securities (shares, bonds), are generally not classified as chattels.

Types of Chattels

Chattels can be broadly categorised into two types: chattels real and chattels personal.

  1. Chattels Real: This category includes interests in land that are less than freehold, such as leasehold estates. While chattels real pertain to land, they are considered personal property because they do not confer ownership of the land itself.
  2. Chattels Personal: These are the more commonly recognised chattels and can be further divided into two subcategories:
    • Choses in Possession: Tangible items that can be physically possessed and moved, such as furniture, vehicles, and jewellery.
    • Choses in Action: Intangible rights that can be claimed or enforced by legal action, such as debts, patents, and insurance policies.

Legal Distinctions and Implications

Understanding the legal distinctions between chattels and other property types is crucial for various legal matters, including property transactions, estate planning, and taxation.

  1. Fixtures vs. Fittings: A common legal issue is distinguishing between fixtures (items affixed to the property) and fittings (moveable items). Fixtures are considered part of the real property and are included in the sale of the property unless explicitly excluded. Fittings, being chattels, are not automatically included in the sale and may need to be negotiated separately.
  2. Ownership and Transfer: The ownership and transfer of chattels follow different legal principles than those of real property. Chattels can be transferred through sale, gift, or inheritance, often requiring a bill of sale or similar document to establish proof of ownership.
  3. Security Interests: Chattels can be used as collateral for loans, with security interests registered to protect the lender’s rights. This is typically done in the UK through a chattel mortgage or a hire purchase agreement.

Tax Implications

Chattels have distinct tax implications, particularly concerning capital gains tax (CGT) and inheritance tax (IHT).

Capital Gains Tax (CGT):

The disposal of chattels may trigger CGT if the items have increased in value. However, there are specific exemptions and reliefs:

  • Wasting Assets: Chattels with a predictable useful life of 50 years or less, such as vehicles and machinery, are exempt from CGT.
  • Exemptions: Individual chattels sold for less than £6,000 are generally exempt from CGT. If the disposal proceeds exceed £6,000, only the amount above this threshold is subject to CGT, and relief is available to reduce the taxable gain.
  • Set of Chattels: When selling a set of chattels (e.g., a collection of artworks), the £6,000 exemption applies to the set as a whole rather than individual items.

Inheritance Tax (IHT):

Chattels form part of the deceased’s estate and may be subject to IHT. Specific considerations include:

  • Valuation: Chattels must be valued at their market value at the date of death. This may require a professional valuation, particularly for high-value items or collections.
  • Gifts and Transfers: Gifts of chattels made during the deceased’s lifetime may be subject to IHT if they were given within seven years of death. Proper documentation and valuation of these gifts are essential for accurate IHT calculations.
  • Business Property Relief (BPR): Certain chattels used in a business context may qualify for BPR, reducing their value for IHT purposes.

Practical Considerations

Managing chattels effectively requires careful consideration of their acquisition, maintenance, insurance, and disposal.

  1. Acquisition: When acquiring chattels, especially high-value items, it is important to obtain proper documentation, such as receipts or certificates of authenticity. This helps establish ownership and simplifies future transactions.
  2. Maintenance: Regular maintenance and proper storage of chattels, particularly valuable or delicate items, preserve their condition and value. For example, artworks should be kept in climate-controlled environments, and vehicles should be serviced regularly.
  3. Insurance: Insuring chattels against loss, theft, or damage is crucial. Adequate coverage should reflect the current market value of the items, and policies should be reviewed regularly to account for changes in value.
  4. Disposal: Proper planning and documentation are required for disposing of chattels, whether through sale, gift, or inheritance. Professional advice may be necessary for high-value items to navigate tax implications and ensure compliance with legal requirements.

Case Studies: Practical Applications of Chattels Management

To illustrate the practical applications and considerations associated with chattels, let’s explore a few case studies.

Inheritance of a Valuable Art Collection

Mr Smith, a successful entrepreneur, passed away, leaving behind a valuable art collection. The collection included several high-value paintings, sculptures, and antiques. As part of the estate administration process, the following steps were taken:

  1. Professional Valuation: The art collection was professionally appraised to determine its market value at the date of Mr Smith’s death. This valuation was essential for calculating IHT.
  2. Documentation and Provenance: Proper documentation, including receipts and certificates of authenticity, was reviewed to establish ownership and provenance. This ensured the collection’s legitimacy and facilitated its future sale or transfer.
  3. Insurance Review: The insurance policies covering the art collection were reviewed and updated to reflect the current market value. This provided adequate protection against potential loss or damage during the estate administration process.
  4. Inheritance Tax Planning: The art collection’s valuation was included in the estate’s IHT calculations. Where possible, the estate’s executors explored options for utilising available reliefs and exemptions to minimise the IHT liability.

Sale of a Classic Car Collection

Mrs Jones, a classic car enthusiast, decided to sell her extensive collection of vintage vehicles. The collection included several rare and valuable cars, which required careful planning for their disposal:

  1. Professional Valuation: Each vehicle in the collection was professionally appraised to determine its market value. This valuation was crucial for setting appropriate sale prices and calculating potential CGT.
  2. Capital Gains Tax Considerations: As the sale proceeds of some vehicles exceeded the £6,000 CGT exemption threshold, Mrs Jones consulted with tax advisors to determine her CGT liability and explore available reliefs.
  3. Sale Strategy: Mrs Jones worked with specialised classic car dealers and auction houses to identify the best platforms for selling her vehicles. This ensured maximum exposure to potential buyers and competitive sale prices.
  4. Documentation and Transfer of Ownership: Proper documentation, including vehicle logbooks and maintenance records, was organised to facilitate the smooth transfer of ownership to buyers. This also helped establish the provenance and authenticity of the vehicles.

Business Use of Chattels

Mr Brown owned a successful agricultural business utilising various chattels, including machinery, vehicles, and equipment. Proper management of these chattels was essential for the business’s operations and financial planning:

  1. Inventory and Maintenance: An inventory of all machinery, vehicles, and equipment was maintained, including detailed records of purchase dates, maintenance schedules, and depreciation. Regular maintenance ensured the chattels remained in good working condition.
  2. Business Property Relief (BPR): Some of the chattels qualified for BPR, reducing their value for IHT purposes. Mr Brown worked with tax advisors to ensure the proper application of BPR and maximise tax savings.
  3. Insurance and Risk Management: Adequate insurance coverage was maintained for all business chattels, protecting against potential losses due to theft, damage, or accidents. Risk management strategies, such as training employees on proper equipment use, further mitigated potential risks.
  4. Disposal and Replacement: When machinery or vehicles reached the end of their useful life, Mr Brown planned their disposal and replacement carefully. This included considering the tax implications of selling or scrapping old equipment and acquiring new assets.


At DLS Solicitors, we are committed to helping our clients understand the significance of chattels in legal, financial, and estate planning contexts. We provide expert guidance and support to ensure that personal possessions are effectively managed, whether for sale, inheritance, or business use.

By comprehending the intricacies of chattels, individuals and businesses can make informed decisions to safeguard their assets and optimise their financial and legal outcomes.

Whether dealing with valuable collections, business equipment, or everyday personal possessions, proper management of chattels is essential for achieving long-term goals and protecting one’s legacy.


This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 11th July 2024.

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