Who Owns Found Money?
The basic and ancient principle of law that governs such situations where the finder of a chattel/Money acquires good title to it against all but the true owner or one enjoying a superior title -Armory v Delamirie (1722) 1 Str.505 ( Eng. K.B.)
However, as with most ancient principles of law, and to the delight of estate litigation lawyers , there are a number of exceptions to the rule.
The cases are largely fact driven and simplistically can be divided into two types:
1) where the original owner of the money or object was not known,
2) where the owner of the chattel can be shown to have a superior title to the finder.
Reasonable diligence must be used to locate the true owner as the finder cannot have owned it prior to its discovery.
Its a fact that a great many people likely hide something of value or significance amongst their possessions or within objects or walls. On most occasions it is probably simply quietly kept.
(I make no comment on how the Proceeds of Crime Legislation Fits Into the Normal Estate Case)
An example of where the ownership of the funds was traced back and given to a person having a superior title can be found in Corporation of the City of Cranbrook v Brown, Lester et all, unreported Cranbrook registry 19980511, of Justice Melnyk.
A widow of a deceased person who had a habit of stashing away money in hidden locations in his residence, was ultimately found to be the true owner of a bag of money that fell from a couch that had been sold by her for $100 in the year following the deceased death, and then subsequently given away to a third party.
While moving the couch a bag of money fell from it.
The court awarded the money to the widow as she was the rightful heir of the deceased’s estate, and was found to have a superior title to the money by virtue of the coach and its money having been vested in her by the estate of the deceased.
The courts further stated that had it not been possible to determine who place the money and the coach, that the case may well have been decided differently.
Similarly in Weitzner v Herman (2000) 33 ETR (2d) 310, involved a widow who was sole beneficiary under her late husband’s estate. The purchasers of their home that they had occupied together for 38 years, and then by the widow subsequently for another 11 years, demolished the home and found $130,000 in cash and an unquantified amount of silver coins hidden in the fire extinguisher in a crawlspace.
The court again held that the widow was the rightful owner of the money as on the balance of probabilities, it was the testator who hid the money and the fact that the widow did not know about the money did not prevent it from passing under his will investing in her.
For a further discussion on the issue of lost chattels and bailment, I refer the reader to Bird v the Town of Fort Frances, (1949) 2 DLR 791