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Who Owns the Money Hidden in the Walls — After the House is Sold?

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Oregon Court of Appeals opinion:

SOLLARS v. CITY of MILWAUKIE (CV06020213; A132996) (decided 9/24/08)

Excerpt:

Before Landau, Presiding Judge, and Schuman, Judge, and Ortega, Judge.

ORTEGA, J.

Reversed and remanded with instructions to enter judgment directing City of Milwaukie to release funds to plaintiff Sollars.

ORTEGA, J.

Plaintiff purchased a home from the Estate of Helene Valoff (the estate). Plaintiff appeals from a judgment directing the City of Milwaukie to release to the estate certain money that was found in the home about one and one-half years after plaintiff purchased it. The relevant facts are undisputed, and we review for errors of law the trial court’s legal conclusions construing the real estate sale agreement between plaintiff and the estate, Batzer Construction, Inc. v. Boyer, 204 Or App 309, 319, 129 P3d 773, rev den, 341 Or 366 (2006). We reverse.

William and Helene Valoff owned a house in Milwaukie, Oregon. After William Valoff died unexpectedly, all assets of his estate were transferred to Helene Valoff, and she owned the house until her death.

The estate sold the house to plaintiff. Section 8 of the real estate sale agreement between plaintiff and the estate provides, “PERSONAL PROPERTY: The following personal property, in ‘AS-IS’ condition and at no stated value is included: stove, refrigerator, garden shed, window coverings.” (Boldface in original.) Section 17 provides, “POSSESSION: [The estate] shall remove all personal property (including trash and debris) that is not a part of this transaction and deliver possession of the Property to [plaintiff] * * * by 5:00 p.m. on the closing date[.]” (Boldface in original.)

About a year and a half after the closing of the sale, an electrician who was performing repairs found bundles of money hidden above the ceiling of the basement of the house. The bundles were bound with rubber bands and adding machine tapes bearing William Valoff’s handwriting.

Because of the uncertainty about who owned the money, police seized and counted it and found that it totaled about $122,000. Plaintiff filed, pursuant to ORS 133.633(1), a motion for the return of things seized,(1) asserting that she was the rightful owner of the money found in her house. The estate filed its own motion for the return of things seized, asserting that it did not intend to transfer any right to the money when it sold the house to plaintiff and that it remained the rightful owner of the money….” (read full case)

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