Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Fight over "treasure trove" found behind walls

Treasure_troveA very interesting situation at the intersection of property law (finding) and inheritance law was recently reported in Joe Milicia, Cash found in Ohio house's walls becomes nightmare, Yahoo! News, Nov. 8, 2008 and AP, Ohio court splits cash found in house's walls, MSN.com, Oct. 23, 2008.

Here is a summary of the key facts:

  • Bob Kitts ("Finder"), a building contractor, found $157,000 in cash in green metal lockboxes which were suspended inside a wall below a medicine chest and $25,000 in cash in cardboard boxes in another bathroom wall.
  • Amanda Reece ("Property Owner") had hired Finder to remodel her 83 year old home located in Cleveland, Ohio near Lake Erie.
  • Patrick Dunne ("True Owner One") placed the "metal box" money behind the wall during the Great Depression and is now deceased.  (This money was in envelopes with his name written thereon.)
  • "True Owner Two" of the "cardboard box" money is unknown because the boxes did not have any identification.  (Personally, I think the money also belonged to Patrick Dunne -- it was his house and the money was hidden in a similar manner to the money with his name thereon.)
  • Dunne's Estate ("Successors in Interest to True Owner One") claimed the money.
  • Under traditional "finding" law, Finder would have no rights to the money because Finder was an employee of the Property Owner and the property was found on the Property Owner's property.  True Owners would have superior rights to both Finder and Property Owner.
  • Originally, Property Owner offered Finder 10% but Finder refused the offer wanting 40% instead.
  • The fight between Property Owner and Finder made the news in December 2007 which alerted Dunne's estate to its possible claim to the money.
  • Property Owner has already spent much of the money and claims that $60,000 was stolen out of a shoe box from her closet.  She did not report the theft to the police.
  • $25,230 remains but the money has been commingled so we don't know how much of it is metal box money vs. cardboard box money.
  • Cuyahoga County Probate Magistrate Charles Brown heard the case.
  • Property Owner dropped her claim to the remaining money.
  • Magistrate Brown awarded the remaining money proportionately to the amounts originally in the metal (83.3%) and cardboard (13.7%) boxes. (Note that these percentages quoted in the newspaper only add up to 97% leaving 3% unaccounted for.)
  • Thus, Successors in Interest to True Owner One (Dunne's estate) received approximately $21,000 and Finder received approximately $3,400.

Special thanks to H. Stuart Ripplinger (2009 J.D. Candidate, Texas Tech University School of Law) and Michael "Shannon" McNutt (2009 J. D. Candidate, Texas Tech University School of Law) for bringing this situation to my attention.


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Did True Owner (the estate) ever bring a conversion claim against the property owner, Reece? One would think that a homeowner with the means to hire a contractor to perform a gut rehab of a classic home on Lake Erie would have sufficient assets against which to pursue a claim for the spent and "stolen" funds.

Posted by: Wade | Nov 9, 2008 4:03:05 PM

According to Milicia article, "She testified in a deposition that she was considering bankruptcy and that a bank recently foreclosed on one of her properties."

Posted by: Gerry W. Beyer | Nov 10, 2008 11:50:18 AM

What are the tax consequences for these people? Does the heir of original owner get to keep the money as a tax free inheritance? And what about the property owner? Are there tax consequences for a spontaneous accession to wealth?

Posted by: Amy | Nov 11, 2008 8:53:42 AM

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