What to do when you find treasure in your garden?

What to do when you find treasure in your garden?
What to do when you find treasure in your garden?

Have you just made a surprising discovery in your garden? A treasure was nestled there! What are you supposed to do? The steps to be taken differ depending on the circumstances of the find and the interest in the property itself. What to do when you find treasure in your garden?

Your rights and duties are not the same depending on whether or not you own the garden in which you found the treasure. Likewise, certain objects of greater interest must be declared.

What is a treasure?

The Civil Code defines what a treasure is. Which is quite useful for determining the legal value of what you have unearthed.

According to the law, the treasure is any hidden or buried thing over which no one can justify their ownership, and which is discovered by pure chance (article 716, paragraph 2 of the Civil Code).

In other words, is qualified as treasure:

  • Something hidden or buried.
  • Which doesn’t belong to anyone.
  • Discovery by pure coincidence. No active research should guide this discovery. For example, if you find gold using a metal detector, the item is not considered treasure.

Here are some examples of treasures: a coin, a piece of jewelry, gold, crockery, ingots, etc. The market value and whether the object is precious or not does not matter.

The Court of Cassation has already had to specify that only personal property, likely to be moved, can be treasures. Buildings do not fall into this definition.

What to do when you find treasure in your own garden?

The law does not formulate the same requirements depending on whether the treasure found is in your garden or that of a third party.

Paragraph 1er of article 716 of the Civil Code provides that ownership of the treasure belongs to whoever finds it on their land.

In other words, you are the owner of the treasure discovered in your home as long as no one claims ownership.

Concomitantly with your find, you are subject to a discovery statement to the mayor of the municipality if the treasure may be of interest to prehistory, history, art, archeology or numismatics. The mayor must then transmit it without delay to the prefect who will notify the administrative authority competent in matters of archeology. (article L531-14 of the Heritage Code). You must also send a copy of the discovery declaration to the regional prefect.

The document drawn up and signed by you must contain:

  • A location plan of the discovery on a 1/25,000 IGN map backgrounde.
  • A cadastral plan indicating the extent of the development project.
  • Some photos of the objects discovered and the context of discovery.

If the property unearthed has no archaeological or historical interest, no declaration is required.

The administrative authority may visit the places where the discoveries were made as well as the premises where the objects were deposited and prescribe all useful measures for their conservation.

What to do when you find treasure on someone else’s property?

The same article of the Civil Code governs the discoveries of treasures on the property of others: they belong half to the person who finds them and half to the owner of the land. If there are several inventors, there are therefore several owners.

For example, if you find a treasure in a public garden, half of it will belong to the municipality and the other half to you.

You can perfectly agree on another property distribution key.

The inventor of the treasure and the owner of the land on which it is unearthed are required to declare the overdrafte to the mayor of the municipality, as long as it presents a particular interest mentioned above.

Good to know : the discovery of treasure is not considered taxable income. It then escapes all tax charges. On the other hand, the resale of old coins or precious objects is subject to a tax. Its amount varies, depending on the nature of the property sold, from 6% to 11% of the amount of the property, to which is added the contribution for the repayment of the social debt (CRDS) amounting to 0.5%. (Source: website of the Ministry of the Economy).

Incidental archaeological discovery declaration template

The declaration can be drawn up on simple plain paper.

To inspire you, here is a model to personalize.

Accidental archaeological discovery declaration template.
Ministry of Culture.

The drafted document must be dated and signed by you.

Treasure in the garden, what to remember

To qualify as a treasure, an object must combine several qualities:

  • To be hidden or buried.
  • Not belonging to anyone.
  • Being discovered by chance.

Its property is acquired:

  • 100% to the inventor as long as he owns the land on which the treasure is found.
  • 50% to the inventor when the property belongs to a third party. The latter then benefits from ownership of the remaining 50%.

When the discovered property is of interest for prehistory, history, art, archeology or numismatics, it must be declared to the mayor of the municipality. A copy must be sent to the prefect.

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