LAWLINK – Who owns valuables found in a house I bought?

assorted books in shallow focus photography
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Q: My grandfather died around six years ago. He has three children and his house was split equally between them. I agreed to buy his home. My mother agreed to waive her share, but I paid my two uncles fully for their share. We had various auctioneers value the house and everything was very amicable. Grandad was a bit of a ‘hoarder’ and I am only now getting around to clearing away his goods. I found a fairly sizable amount of cash (both euro and punts). There were also some valuable collectibles – mainly relating to Irish history, first editions of stamps, etc. I think the collected value is around €50,000 in all. I’m unsure where the ownership of the items lies. What should I do?

Dear Reader,

Generally speaking, when you purchase a property from a third party there is an obligation to provide ‘vacant possession’ on closing. That is to say, the property should be emptied of all goods, save those items as might have been specifically agreed over the course of the transaction.

That list of contents would usually be agreed with the auctioneer. That is not to say that any goods that remain on the property after closing are yours, they remain the property of the person who owned them – in this case the estate of your grandfather.

In practical terms, you should ensure that the collectibles are maintained safely and ensure that you have now unearthed all valuables. It may also be necessary to have the collectibles formally valued. Although they may be of great sentimental value, they may not be that financially valuable.

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The documents that you signed when you purchased the house may contain some comfort. It is possible that you bought all the “home and contents”.

If such is the position, then there is a case to be made that these valuables (although perhaps not the cash) are now yours. That said, this may be a situation where the value you paid was based on the home and land, and not the contents.

You should make contact with the solicitor for the estate at your earliest convenience. Information on what passed to who should be contained within the will. Wills often include a ‘residue’ clause confirming what is to happen to any property not specifically accounted for elsewhere. Most likely, this would provide that the residue goes your grandfather’s children in equal shares.

It would have been the duty of the executor or administrator of the estate to ensure that a proper inventory of the estate was made and presented to the Revenue Commissioners. Clearly that was not done, and you and the executor of the estate should perhaps consult with the solicitor for the estate to ensure that there are no tax implications of this find.

I note that matters were amicable with your family when it came to your purchase and no doubt you will want to maintain that positive relationship. You should keep them informed at all stages.