The passing of a beloved relative can be a difficult time. In addition to grappling with the emotional grief of your loss, you eventually have to go through your loved one’s will and litigate matters with various attorneys in Probate Court. The government comes in first and gets its piece of the pie, then you and your relatives get whatever was bequeathed to you, and finally any charitable donations on behalf of the estate are made. If there are no provisions for a loved one’s individual belongings, some families decide to have estate sales and auction off silver, gold, antiques, cars, paintings, military service items, and other assets for cash. It’s not free to die in the USA, and everyone from your family lawyer, to estate executor, to estate auctioneer will need to get paid.
Contrary to popular belief, you just don’t show up at your relative’s house with a U-Haul and divvy up the goods; there’s much more to it than meets the eye.
When reflecting on the times they spent with a recently deceased relative, inevitably reminders of their possessions or favorite items pop into mind. My Mom settled the estate for an elderly woman who was an artist throughout her life. Her works were featured in local galleries and reproduced as prints. On some days during the twilight years of the older lady’s life, she would talk about her pictures with vivid detail. On other days, she completely forgot she was an artist and accused my Mother of trying to sell her life insurance in the convalescent home. 🙂 When people grow old, sometimes memories disappear and important details of their life are misplaced or forgotten.
Naturally, when it came time to settle the woman’s estate, everyone wondered where the paintings and prints were. There was no mention of them in the will because the elderly lady changed it many times late in her life and she forgot about many things she owned. The artwork itself didn’t have tremendous market value, but it did have sentimental value to those who knew this lovely lady throughout her life. Later, much of the artwork was discovered in the back of closet, stacked behind old clothes and shoes. We were all relieved it was finally found, but of course, that meant it had to be inventoried and dispersed appropriately.
If you’re reading this post, chances are you’ve just recalled that a recently deceased loved one had a paper money collection. Maybe they only collected for a few years; maybe they were “lifers” with multiple albums of United States currency purchased right up until they could no longer take care of themselves. The whereabouts and value of any numismatic collection can become an important issue in regard to settling the loved one’s will, particularly if the collection is very valuable. As mentioned above, the cash value of some collections (art, antiques, sculptures, coins, stamps, or currency) may have to be litigated in probate court and put “on the record”.
I don’t know where the collection is, where should I look?
You’d be surprised how many emails we’ve received about people finding notes in weird places that were a deceased relative’s property. Here are the most common places currency or paper money is kept:
- Currency albums, often resembling large 3 ring binders. If the collection is substantial, you may need to look for multiple albums. The collector will probably have them stored in a cool, dry, place away from sunlight. The albums might be bound by leather, plastic, or cloth. Some might bear the brand names of well known numismatic companies on their covers.
- Safety deposit boxes. Many heirs to estates are surprised to discover that their relative had a safety deposit box at the local bank. Some older folks liked to keep an ample supply of cash on hand for emergency purposes. Safety deposit boxes are equally great places to store a valuable currency collection. While you’re cataloging all the notes in the collection, be sure to get the legal authority necessary to research if your relative had any other safety deposit boxes at the bank, or any other area bank. Some families who don’t check their relative’s banking history are often surprised years later when a bank official calls them to report a safety deposit box has been found in their name. This happens more often than you might think!
- Among other collectibles that don’t appear outwardly valuable. Grandpa might have a few boxes of baseball cards that don’t have much collector value, but there could be many other treasures hidden among them. Collectors sometimes behave like “hoarders”: they stockpile anything and everything in random places known only to them. A junky set of old cigar boxes might have banknotes stored inside them. An ordinary looking scrap book might have a currency section. Old books chronicling historical events (Civil War, World War I, World War II) might have notes stashed inside them. People are quirky. That means be prepared to find almost anything, anywhere.
- Inside antique furniture. Sure, that wooden bureau looks ordinary and plain, but it’s former owner could have hidden notes inside its drawers or even beneath the drawers. True story: I was assisting my parents moving tables out of a deceased relative’s house, and one had an inconspicuous drawer. Naturally, I opened it out of curiosity, and inside were old newspapers from the moon landing and Apollo missions. These tables were headed for a tag sale, but luckily the real treasures were found just in time!
- Household safes of all types. This one is obvious, but still worth mentioning: check any safe in the house for currency, even if it is an antique safe meant for decorative purposes or as a conversation piece. Some people might also keep a stash of currency inside gun safes, document safes, or some other item under lock and key. Check them thoroughly. There’s a reason why they’re called “safes” and used to protect valuables. 🙂
- Suitcases, luggage, old travel items. Although a true currency collector probably won’t house their notes inside a suitcase, some people might save cash for spending purposes inside a suitcase for travel and then forget about it. As time progresses, the suitcase might get pushed deeper into a closet or tossed in the attic, all the while containing old banknotes. Most of the time these notes aren’t particularly valuable, but you never know. A grandparent that visited Europe during World War II might have put some Yellow Seal North Africa Silver Certificates in their suitcase for spending money. If the notes are well preserved and/or have star serial numbers, you might have a nice find on your hands!
- Military uniforms, old coats and jackets, work uniforms. Ever found a $20 dollar bill in an old raincoat, or rediscovered a $50 dollar bill inside a sport coat you wore to a fancy event? Well, chances are, your relative may have left some cash or other valuables inside their coat pockets, forgotten long ago. This is particularly true for those who served in the military. Some family members processing estates will find pictures, autographs, USA and foreign currency, coins, or wedding rings inside old military uniforms. Don’t ever handover an old Army coat or pants without inspecting them first. Military service is important to many people and it encapsulates many memories in their life. To commemorate their days in the service, people save all sorts of things inside their uniforms.
- Old family Bibles or family tree books. Some families have well established traditions of passing down a Bible or family tree album to subsequent generations. Along the way, various items get placed inside these books or albums, representing an important event in someone’s life. Additionally, a relative might put something valuable inside a family Bible because he or she knows that his or her heirs will eventually discover it. It’s not uncommon to find banknotes inside Bibles or between the sheets of a family tree, particularly families that have roots in the country back to the 1800s or earlier. Always thoroughly search any sort of heirloom no matter how commonplace it might be. A valuable 1891 Treasury Note might be stuck inside waiting for you to discover!
When you do find an old banknote, feel free to contact us! We appraise for free. Simply send a photo of your note and a brief description by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org .
Important: The rules and regulations of settling estates varies from state to state in the USA, as do the amount of taxes levied on the value of the estate. Please consult an attorney and all heirs listed in the relative’s will before assuming control of a coin or currency collection. In many cases, the collection may have to be inventoried and appraised by a third party and then entered into Probate Court proceedings. Take all precautions necessary to avoid any legal entanglements resulting from the discovery of a valuable item that wasn’t declared line-item in your loved one’s will.