Hidden Money Common When Running Estate Sales

Deborah Welky


When I do an estate sale, any cash I find goes into a zippered bag to be returned to the owner before the sale takes place. Many of the Greatest Generation did not trust the banking industry, choosing instead to hide their dough under mattresses, inside socks or, in the case of rare coins, inside used prescription bottles.

I recently turned down the opportunity to do a sale because there were so many rare pieces of artwork and sculpture that I knew an auction with worldwide bidders was the way to go. There was also absolutely no parking around the home or anywhere else close by, which makes selling things onsite difficult, even if you bus people in from a nearby parking lot. Most estate sale shoppers like to stop and shop, not make a day of it.

I turned this sale down with regret, however. In looking over the appraisal booklet, which cites the current estimated value for the items in the home, there was easily $75,000 in artwork alone. The furniture was beautiful; the collections, exquisite.

Later, through the grapevine, I found out that when the auction people went through the house to load everything into their vans, they found $40,000 in cash tucked inside the marble statues next to the fireplace. That was just the beginning. There was money tucked into nooks and crannies all over the house.

On a smaller scale, the same thing happened when my father-in-law died. Nursing home workers whom he said had been impossible to reach when his refrigerator went on the blink were now there in a flash, standing eagerly outside the door with trash bags. The family and I looked at them uncomprehendingly but, as we sorted through his things, we found $20 bills all over the place.

His son, Shel, who had been handling his father’s finances for years said, “I had wondered what he was spending his money on. He never bought anything but asked for $100 from his account every time I came to visit. I guess he was just stashing it away where he could visit it.”

Predictably, there was money under the mattress, in his sock drawer and in various pill bottles. When I pulled pillows from the top shelf of his closet, money came raining down on my head. There was even a box of stationery with the lid tucked into the bottom. When I went to put the lid back on top, there were 20s layered into it.

At that point, I told the family that every pocket in every piece of clothing should be checked out, but they felt uncomfortable doing that with the staff looming over them. So out went the clothes into the trash bags.

I am sure the pockets were gone through soon, however, probably downstairs in the maintenance bay. It seems there are perks to working in a nursing home.

As for the Greatest Generation, maybe a safe deposit box is the answer.