Personal property is property that is movable.[1] In common law systems, personal property may also be called chattels or personalty. In civil law systems, personal property is often called movable property or movables—any property that can be moved from one location to another.

Personal property can be understood in comparison to real estate, immovable property or real property (such as land and buildings).

Movable property on land (larger livestock, for example) was not automatically sold with the land, it was "personal" to the owner and moved with the owner.

The word cattle is the Old Norman variant of Old French chatel, chattel (derived from Latin capitalis, "of the head"), which was once synonymous with general movable personal property.[2]


Personal property may be classified in a variety of ways.


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.[3]


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, etcetera) 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.[4]

Other distinctions

Accountants 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 common law it is possible to place a mortgage upon real property. Such a mortgage requires payment, or the owner of the mortgage can seek foreclosure. Personal property can often be secured with a similar kind of device, variously called a chattel mortgage, a trust receipt, or a 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.

There is no similar institution to the mortgage in the civil law, however a hypothec is a device to secure real rights against property. These real rights follow the property along with the ownership. In common law a lien also remains on the property, and it is not extinguished by alienation of the property; liens may be real or equitable.

Many jurisdictions levy a personal property tax, an annual tax on the privilege of owning or possessing personal property within the boundaries of the jurisdiction. Automobile and boat registration fees are a subset of this tax. Most household goods are exempt as long as they are kept or used within the household.

The distinction between tangible and intangible personal property is also significant in some of the jurisdictions which impose sales taxes. In Canada, for example, provincial and federal sales taxes were imposed primarily on sales of tangible personal property whereas sales of intangibles tended to be exempt. The move to value added taxes, under which almost all transactions are taxable, has diminished the significance of the distinction.[5]

Personal versus private property

In political/economic theory,[6][failed verification] the distinction between private and personal property is an important one. In capitalism private and personal property are considered to be identical without the need for a distinction.[7][better source needed]

See also


  1. ^ Palgrave, Robert Harry Inglis (1908). "Personal property". Dictionary of political economy. Vol. 3. p. 96.
  2. ^ "Origin of chattel". Archived from the original on 14 August 2009. Retrieved August 15, 2009.
  3. ^ "personal property Legal Definition". Retrieved 2023-06-26.
  4. ^ "tangible personal property". LII / Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 2023-06-26.
  5. ^ "Understanding Canadian Tax Law | 2022 Guide". 2021-10-15. Retrieved 2023-06-26.
  6. ^ Harrison, Kevin; Boyd, Tony (2018-07-30), "Marxism and anarchism", Understanding political ideas and movements, Manchester University Press, pp. 237–255, ISBN 978-1-5261-3795-1, retrieved 2023-06-26
  7. ^ "How Are Capitalism and Private Property Related?". Investopedia. Retrieved 2023-06-26.
  8. ^ "Marx's Theory of Alienation". 2023-02-26. Retrieved 2023-06-26.
  9. ^ "B.3 Why are anarchists against private property? - Anarchist Writers". Archived from the original on 14 November 2017. Retrieved 29 April 2018.
  10. ^ "End Private Property, Not Kenny Loggins". Jacobin. Archived from the original on 26 October 2017. Retrieved 29 April 2018.