Is Buried Treasure Taxable?

Treasure chest

A Northern California couple unearthed $10 million worth of gold coins in their backyard and may be giving half of their jackpot away in the form of State and Federal taxes. While walking their dog, the couple discovered six steel cans that were filled with thousands of mint condition gold coins that date from 1847 to 1894. There has been speculation that these coins were buried in conjunction with a bank heist in the early 1900s.

In 1969, the United States Federal Court ruled that treasure is taxable the year that it was discovered. “If you find and keep property that does not belong to you that has been lost or abandoned (treasure-trove), it is taxable to you at its fair market value in the first year it is in your undisputed possession.”

The coins were found in February of 2013, which means they may owe taxes on the $10 million by April 15th deadline. If this does occur, the couple will be taxed at the top Federal rate. The combination of State and Federal Tax will be 47 percent of the $10 million total. It looks like the IRS may have hit the lottery!

In accordance with Circular 230 Disclosure


  1. Tom Smitha says:

    But if you are in a trade or business of finding treasure, like the salvage company who will be pulling gold from the SS Central America, you are normally not taxed on your find until it is sold. Similar to mining.

  2. Joan Horton, CPA says:

    Seems fair to me. Income is income & it’s taxed unless specifically exempted.

    Besides they’re still better off than they were.

    But if I remember this story correctly, the coin collection might have been stolen from its original owner many years ago. So if that’s the case, the couple may not yet have “undisputed possession” of it.

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