Can You Keep Gold If You Find It? – Here Is How You Know! | Prospectingplanet (2023)

The immense joy of heading out into the wild and finding your own gold is hard to describe. All the work and effort put into finding a great location, getting out there, and then prospecting for gold, all of a sudden seems worth it when you make your first find!

If you have found gold, be it intentionally or not, you might be wondering if you can keep it. Well, here is the quick answer:

In most cases, you can keep any gold that’s found on your property or on public lands, provided that nobody else has a better claim to it. In most states, finds should be turned in to the police, to be advertised. Unless someone else can prove ownership, you are then allowed to keep it.

In some cases, authorities might show interest in the gold, provided that it holds some archeological value, and may decide to seize it. However, that’s seldom the case, and most gold finds are returned to the finder.

It’s important to note that natural placer gold, such as gold nuggets, doesn’t fall under the rules laid out in this article. If you find natural gold such as gold nuggets on your property or on public lands, it’s yours to keep.

In this article you will discover all the following and more:

  • How to know if the gold is yours to keep
  • Where you are allowed to mine for natural gold
  • What to do with the gold you find

Let’s get started!

Do remember that rules may vary by state. Do always consult your state for up to date rules or advice regarding your situation!

How to Know if The Gold Is Yours to Keep: More Detailed Info

When it comes to deciding whether you can keep the gold you find or not, it all tends to come down to three points, namely:

  1. Where was it found?
  2. Is it abandoned, mislaid, or lost?
  3. Is it of archeological significance?

All these points come together when deciding who has the better claim to the gold, and as you might suspect, in some cases, the answer won’t be clear cut. Before we head on to look at some real examples of people who have found gold and either got to keep it or lose it, let’s look at each point in greater detail:

1. Where Was It Found?

In general, you stand a good chance of getting to keep the gold if the find is made on public lands or on your own property. If you happen to find gold on private property belonging to somebody else, that’s generally considered as part of the property and the find usually goes to the owner.

When talking about natural gold, such as gold nuggets and placer gold, the answer is much more clear cut. The gold is yours if you find it on public land that has not been claimed for mineral rights, or on your own property.

2. Is it abandoned, mislaid, or lost: A legal distinction

This is a legal distinction that’s often made when trying to determine who is the legitimate owner of the gold.

  • Abandoned: Property that has been intentionally left behind.
  • Mislaid: This alludes to gold that has been intentionally placed somewhere with the intention of retrieving it at a later stage. It doesn’t matter if the owner forgets about the gold or the location.
  • Lost: This is gold that’s inadvertently left behind, like a gold ring that was dropped accidentally on the beach.

Generally speaking, it’s much harder to get to keep gold that’s mislaid than lost or abandoned gold.

3. Is it of archeological or historical significance?

If the gold piece has archeological significance, it may be that the city or state makes a claim to it. As mentioned earlier, this is quite rare, unless you’ve struck something really conspicuous and rare.

4. Is it Antiquidated?

Although this point might seem to have to do with point number 3, it hasn’t.

Gold that has been concealed for a period long enough for any owner to be dead since long, falls under this category. This basically means that your chances of getting to keep the gold increase if it’s been lying around for a long time, and it’s unlikely for an owner to step forward and claim it.

Case Study: How a Couple Found 10 Million Worth of Gold Coins

Can You Keep Gold If You Find It? – Here Is How You Know! | Prospectingplanet (1)

One case that caught a lot of attention a couple of years ago took place in California. A couple out walking their dog stumbled upon gold coins worth $10 million, buried in cans.

Since the gold was on their property and had been buried for decades, if not over a century, they got to keep it.

As is mentioned in the linked article above, even if someone could prove that their great-great-grandfather buried those cans, there’s very little the descendant could do if their ancestor sold that land to John and Mary’s family.

The same principle of letting the owner of the property keep his or her finds is, by and large, a dominating presumption in similar cases in America.

A case that didn’t end that well for the owner

Although the owner gets to keep what comes with his or her property in most cases, there are exceptions. One example is the story of an Arizonan man, who had hidden half a million dollars in ammunition cans inside his walls.

After having died, the man’s daughters searched the house thoroughly, knowing that he used to stash things away, without finding anything.

Once the new owners made the discovery a few years later they claimed that the money was abandoned. However, the court wasn’t of the same opinion and determined that the money instead was mislaid, and had to go to the daughters.

This is a prime example of how determining whether the gold/cash is abandoned or mislaid could become the determining factor!

How To Find Gold That You Can Keep!

If you want to find gold – and keep it – you should definitely be looking for natural placer gold. Although much has been mined, there is still plenty left to discover. And best of all, it’s a great excuse for getting out and enjoying nature!

So, here comes a mini-guide on what you need to do, together with links to other helpful articles I’ve produced over the years!

  1. Find out where you are allowed to prospect: The best way to start out is to join a local gold mining club that often will let you prospect on their claims, which are known to have gold.
  2. Learn basic geology and how to read rivers:I have several articles, linked right below, that will teach you the basics.
  3. Get yourself some equipment: To start off, you just need a gold pan or a gold panning kit. If you want to take your hobby one step further while still not spending too much money, adding a sluice box is a great option!


Here are three guides that will help you get started!

  • Beginner’s guide to gold panning
  • How to prospect for gold: Big guide!
  • How to read a river for gold


What To Do With the Gold You’ve Found!

The best option for your gold depends on what type of gold it is, but in large, you could either decide to keep it for yourself or sell it.

If you decide to sell the gold, it’s good to know that it can command a wide range of price just depending on who’s on the other side of the deal.

Here are some general rules of thumb:

  • Gold Nuggets should be sold to collectors or jewelers, who could pay you several times the actual value of the gold.
  • Fine placer gold should preferably be sold to a local dealer who specializes in placer gold. You should be able to get between 70% – 85% of the gold spot price.
  • Never sell to pawn shops. They seldom give you more than 50% of the metal scrap value.

For more information about how to sell placer gold, I recommend having a look at my guide to selling fine gold and gold nuggets


Finding gold, be it intentionally or not, is an exciting experience. And while you get to keep what you’ve found in most cases, there are exceptions as we’ve seen in this article.

Always look up the rules and legislation in your state before making any decisions. Although they are quite similar across the country, they can and do differ between states!

Happy prospecting!

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