Depending upon the classification of found property, there are different rights to each.

Four Categories of Found Property

Property that has been separated from its owner can fall into several categories depending mostly on the intent of the owner. The four major categories are: 

  • Abandoned Property - is property that the true owner voluntarily relinquished or surrendered
  • Lost Property - is property that the true owner, who cannot be found by an ordinary, diligent search, no longer possesses because of accident or negligence
  • Mislaid Property - is property that has been voluntarily relinquished but the owner did so with the intent to recover it later
    • The distinction between abandoned and mislaid property is that mislaid property is intentionally put somewhere temporarily and then forgotten about by the owner
  • Treasure Trove - is property consisting of valuables (usually gold and silver: think pirates) hidden in the ground or other private place of whom the true owner is unknown. 

Rights to Property

The type of property dictates the finder's rights to it. Sometimes, someone may have rights to the property only until the actual owner of the property asks for it back. The rights for different kinds of found property are as follows: 

  • Abandoned Property : the finder of the property has rights superior to everyone else, including the owner who abandoned it
  • Lost Property : the finder of the property has rights to everyone except the owner who lost it
  • Mislaid Property : the owner of the premises where the property was found has the rights superior to everyone except to owner who mislaid it
  • Treasure Trove : generally, the finder of the property owns it outright

What Should You Do if Ownership of the Property You Found or Lost Is in Dispute?

Since the law is complex and varies by state, it may be prudent to consult a property lawyer who can help you determine what category your property might fall under.