Personal property, roughly speaking, is private property that is moveable, as opposed to real property or real estate. In the common law systems personal property may also be called chattels or personalty. In the civil law systems personal property is often called movable property or movables - any property that can be moved from one location to another. This term is in distinction with immovable property or immovables, such as land and buildings. Movable property on land, that which was not automatically sold with the land, included for example larger livestock (wildlife and smaller livestock like chickens, by contrast, was often sold as part of the land). In fact the word cattle is the Old Norman variant of Old French chatel (derived from Latin capitalis, “of the head”), which was once synonymous with general movable personal property.
Personal property may be classified in a variety of ways. Tangible personal property refers to any type of property that can generally be moved (i.e., it is not attached to real property or land), touched or felt. These generally include items such as furniture, clothing, jewelry, art, writings, or household goods. In some cases, there can be formal title documents that show the ownership and transfer rights of that property after a person's death (for example, motor vehicles, boats, etc.) In many cases, however, tangible personal property will not be "titled" in an owner's name and is presumed to be whatever property he or she was in possession of at the time of his or her death.
Intangible personal property or "intangibles" refers to personal property that cannot actually be moved, touched or felt, but instead represents something of value such as negotiable instruments, securities, service (economics), and intangible assets including chose in action.
Accountants also distinguish personal property from real property because personal property can be depreciated faster than improvements (while land is not depreciable at all). It is an owner's right to get tax benefits for chattel, and there are businesses that specialize in appraising personal property, or chattel.
The distinction between these types of property is significant for a variety of reasons. Usually one's rights on movables are more attenuated than one's rights on immovables (or real property). The statutes of limitations or prescriptive periods are usually shorter when dealing with personal or movable property. Real property rights are usually enforceable for a much longer period of time and in most jurisdictions real estate and immovables are registered in government-sanctioned land registers. In some jurisdictions, rights (such as a lien or other security interest) can be registered against personal or movable property.
In the common law it is possible to place a mortgage upon real property. Such mortgage requires payment or the owner of the mortgage can seek foreclosure. Personal property can often be secured with similar kind of device, variously called a chattel mortgage, trust receipt, or security interest. In the United States, Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code governs the creation and enforcement of security interests in most (but not all) types of personal property.
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