The Arizona Appellate Court recently decided an interesting case that analyzed the law of found property. Robert Spann (the "original homeowner") died in 2001. His daughter (the "estate") took charge of his house. The estate sold the house to Sarina Jennings and Clinton McCallum (the "new homeowners"). The new homeowners hired a contractor to do some renovations to the house. The contractor found $500,000 in cash hidden behind a wall and tried to keep it. As you can imagine, everybody filed suit against everybody else.
In explaining who should get to keep the money and why, the Appellate Court analyzed the law of found property. Found property can be lost, mislaid, abandoned, or treasure trove. "Lost" property includes property the owner unintentionally parts with through either carelessness or neglect. "Abandoned" property has been thrown away or voluntarily forsaken by its owner. Property is "mislaid" if the owner intentionally places it in a certain place and then later forgets about it. Property is considered "treasure trove" if it verifiably antiquated and has been concealed for so long as to indicate the the owner is probably dead or unknown.
A finder's rights depend on how a court classifies the found property. Under the common law, it has been said the people do not normally abandon their money; and, accordingly, found money will never be considered abandoned, but rather lost or mislaid property. The estate, the new homeowners, and the contractor all made claim to the $500,000. The question was whether the $500,000 was lost or mislaid by the original homeowner because cash can't be abandoned and this money was not antique enough to be considered treasure trove.
The Court found that the money was mislaid property that belongs to its true owner, the estate, as opposed its finder, the contractor and/or new homeowners. HERE is a link to the opinion.