There are many things to consider when choosing real estate. The location, price range, school districts, and more are all important factors that drive the decision to buy. Occasionally, unexpected surprises turn up after the completion of the sale. Most of the time, that’s not a good thing. But every once in a while, a homeowner stumbles upon a hidden treasure.
In 1904, two boys were cleaning out a henhouse for a neighbor. While doing so, they discovered several jars filled with coins worth $7,000. When they brought the money to their neighbor, he took it, paid them each a nickel for their troubles and told them not to speak of the treasure to anyone.
In 2001, a man named Robert Spann died and left his house to his two daughters. The house had fallen into disrepair and, in the course of fixing it up, the daughters discovered an assortment of containers hidden inside the house, filled with money. After seven years of home repair and treasure hunting, the daughters sold the house. The new owners started to remodel and uncovered four more cans, which contained a total of $500,000 hidden in the walls.
In 2015, a California couple revealed that they had found eight cans full of gold coins partially buried around their property. The value of these coins was estimated to be ten million dollars. They waited a year after their discovery to go public, in order to consult with real estate attorneys and other advisers about their claim to the coins.
In the unlikely event that a real estate owner discovers a hidden treasure on their property, there’s still a chance that they might not get to keep it. US law distinguishes between property that is lost, mislaid, abandoned, or that constitutes a “treasure trove” in determining who gets to keep it.
An item is lost if it was accidentally or unknowingly left somewhere. If someone finds a dropped diamond ring in the grass on their property, they are entitled to it, unless the original owner who dropped it turns up and asks for it back.
Something is mislaid if it was set down intentionally and the owner wanted to return to it but was unable to do so. If a person finds something that’s been mislaid on their property, they can keep it unless the person who mislaid it reclaims it. In the Spann case, the state court determined that because Robert Spann had a history of hiding money in the walls to recover later if he needed it, that his daughters’ inability to find the cans and even their decision to sell the house didn’t count as abandoning the property. Spann’s daughters got the cash.
Something is abandoned if the owner simply left it with no intention of returning and reclaiming it. The owner of the property where the abandoned item was found is the owner of that item.
Finally, there is the concept of a treasure trove, which is an item or group of items that have been hidden on a property so long ago that the original owners or their descendants are no longer living. The owner of a property where a treasure trove is found is the owner of that treasure trove. In the 1904 case, the court took pity on the boys who had found the treasure and determined that they were entitled to the whole $7,000, even though they didn’t own the property. Several decades later, courts across the US began applying the law as it stands today. The property owner, not the finder, gets the treasure trove. So the California couple is sitting pretty with that cache of coins.