Friday, June 15, 2012

Finders Keepers? Arizona Court Says Not So Fast

An Arizona appellate court recently held that the estate of a man who hid $500,000 cash in the walls of his dilapidated house, rather than the subsequent homeowners, was entitled to the money.  In Grande v. Jennings,  the court held that the original homeowner, Robert Spann, had not in fact abandoned the cash that he had hid in the walls of his home.  Apparently Mr. Spann had made a habit of hiding cash and other values throughout  the home where the cash in dispute was found, as well as other homes that he had owned.

Sometime after his death, Spann's daughter, Karen Spann Grande, as personal representative of her father's estate, sold the home to a couple, Sarina Jennings and Clinton McCallum.  During the course of renovations undertaken by the new homeowners, the $500,000 in cash was discovered hidden in various walls throughout the home.  The contractor initially failed to tell the homeowner's about the cash, but he was eventually ratted-out by one of his employees. After Jennings and McCallum  sued the contractor seeking to recover the cash, Grande sued Jennings and McCallum, claiming that her father's estate was in fact entitled to the money.

After the cases were consolidated, Grande won at trial.  On appeal, the appellate court agreed with the trial court that under Arizona law, to be deemed to have abandoned personal property, "one must voluntarily and intentionally give up a known right."  In this instance, the court ruled, no such voluntary and intentional relinquishment of the cash had been proven, and thus the estate was entitled to the money.  

While the estate ultimately prevailed in this case, Mr. Spann's "method" of estate planning surely left something to be desired. 

Click here to read the decision in its entirety.

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