You have heard the old adage “possession is 9/10 of the law.” Well, here is a case dealing with the other 1/10. The Arizona case of Grande v. Jennings involved a hoarder by the name of Robert Spann. When he passed away in 2001, his daughter, Karen Grande, became personal representative of his estate. She knew from experience that he had hidden gold, cash, and other valuables in unusual places in previous homes that he owned, so she started looking for valuables that her father may have left or hidden in this particular home. Over the course of seven (7) years, she found stocks and bonds, as well as hundreds of military-style green ammunition cans hidden throughout the house, some of which contained gold or cash. After seven (7) years of searching and making repairs to the home, it was sold, “as is” to Jennings in 2008.
Jennings hired Bueghly to remodel the home. Shortly after the remodeling work began, Rafael Cuen, Bueghly’s employee, discovered two additional ammunition cans full of cash in the kitchen wall. Intrigued, he kept on looking and found two more ammunition cans of cash inside the framing of an upstairs bathroom. Honest Rafael reported the find to his dishonest boss, Bueghly, who promptly took the four ammo cans and hid them. Rafael eventually told the new owners about the discovery and the police were called. The police ultimately took control of the cash, which amounted to $500,000.00, which Bueghly had kept in a safe in his home. Jennings sued Bueghly for the money. Bueghly filed a counterclaim saying that his was entitled to the “found” funds. In the meantime, Grande filed a Petition in Probate Court on behalf of the estate to recover her father’s money.
Who got to keep the money? Karen Grande recovered on behalf of the estate because the court found that the funds were “lost” and the estate had not “abandoned” the ammunition cans of cash. There were no facts from which a court could infer that the estate intended to relinquish any valuable items that may have been secreted within the home. The fact that Bueghly had possession of the cash did not help him in this case, nor did ownership of the house in which the cash was found help Jennings. Generally, possession of lost property belongs to the owner of the premises upon which the property is found, absent a claim by the true owner. So, possession may be 9/10ths of the law, but it isn’t 100%.