I along with a few other people are curious as to the legality of scenarios logically similar to the hypothetical described below:

Assume someone places their wallet on the ground in a public place, then someone picks up the wallet thinking it was theirs's, puts money in it, then leaves it on the ground and proceeds to walk away leaving the wallet on the ground. Then, at a later time, the owner of the wallet who originally left it on the ground in a public place comes over and picks up their wallet, and notices that for some odd reason someone decided to put money inside of their wallet that was left in a public place. Can the owner of the wallet keep the money that was put in their wallet? Or would it be illegal to take the money being that the person (not the owner of the wallet) who put the money in the wallet wasn't planning on giving it away? Or would the law state that because the wallet was in a public place at the time of the person putting money in the wallet, the person that put money inside has no expectation of someone not taking the money?

  • 1
    it's a good hypothetical... Someone, relying on that something is his, putting his property on or in someone else's property.
    – Trish
    Jan 5, 2021 at 16:16
  • 1
    This will be a matter of state law, and the details will differ from one US state to another. What state should be assumed for a detailed answer? Jan 5, 2021 at 16:49
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    I don't quite see why you call this an analogy. It is a somewhat unlikely hypothetical situation, but I don't see what it is an analogy to. Jan 5, 2021 at 17:20
  • @DavidSiegel Being that certain details about why this question was asked needed to be redacted, I instead asked the question using an entirely hypothetical analogy. The analogy used was completely/entirely unrelated to the original reason as to why this question was asked, but logically/legally similar. Therefore the answer to this post will apply and/or be suitable to the original reason why this question was asked.
    – rflxweb
    Jan 5, 2021 at 18:17
  • You call such theoretical constructs Hypotheticals if you talk about law. They are mainly about which laws are to be applied, and the bar exam uses such, sometimes super complicated.
    – Trish
    Jan 5, 2021 at 18:19

2 Answers 2


If a person intentionally places a wallet with money in it on the ground and walks away, that money is abandoned property and the person leaving it no longer has a legal claim to it.

However, someone finding such money will not know that it was abandoned and should treat it as lost.

A person who finds the wallet and realizes that it contains someone else's property (or finds any other apparently lost property) must, in most US states, report that fact. The procedures for reporting vary from one state to another, and may also vary depending on the value of property (in this case money) found. A person who does not report but just takes the property and treats it as his or her own may be guilty of Theft by Finding or a similar offense.

However, a person who finds his or her own previously lost wallet, and does not realize that someone else has added money to it probably would suffer no penalty for treating the money as his or her own, provided that it is reasonable not to realize the addition. If the amount of added money is large, a reasonable person would notice.


The reasonable conclusion (given circumstances) is that the wallet is lost, and the money inserted into it is abandoned, but a state need not recognize such a difference. "Abandoned" tangible property in is generally about tenants and landlord, and abandoned property is generally about things that represent something of value (stocks, deposits, fare cards, insurance), and not "money I found on the ground" in my wallet or otherwise. In Washington, this is simply lost property, which you are to turn in to a law enforcement agency. You can file a claim to the property and if it not claimed within 60 days, it is yours. If you don't comply with the turn-it-in requirement, you are liable to the owner.

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