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  • Writer's picturePeter Lamont, Esq.

You Found What on Your Property?

Ok, so picture this. . . you buy a nice ranch from some old cowpokes. They are happy to sell to you but because the land is rich in minerals, they want to retain a portion of the land rights. You agree, why wouldn't you? How can you say "no" to someone who calls you "Pilgrim?"

A few weeks later your wife decides that "you" would love to plant some trees in the front yard. Of course, you would, you totally want to give the yard some character. Oh, and the best time to start the planting is during the football game.

So, there you are "cheerfully" digging in the dirt, focusing on all of the reasons that you love your wife and then. . . "crack!" Your shovel hits something. It doesn't feel like a tree root or rock. You carefully kneel down and begin brushing away dirt like you are Indiana Jones in the map room. As you gently dig and brush dirt it becomes clear. You are looking at bones.

Your first thought is "holy crap", there are drug dealers buried in my front yard. After you realize that you don't live in New Jersey or Detroit, you calm down and continue to uncover what turns out to be dinosaur bones. Not just any dinosaur bones, but two ancient creatures locked in a battle pose. You can't believe your eyes. You think back to your childhood and remember how much you hated dinosaurs. You especially hated Dino from the Flinstones, although you did think that Betty Rubble was a prehistoric hottie.

Nevertheless, you have a new found love for these Jurassic giants. Not because you appreciate prehistoric times or anything even close, but because of how much money you can sell these bones for. Early retirement, here you come.

You run into the house and tell your wife. Of course, she thinks you are just procrastinating. Somehow you convince her to see for herself. She does, and she also sees the amazing prehistoric dollar signs that you do. She immediately cancels your tree planting (we know how distraught you are about that) and calls local historians, museums, paleontologists, and your mother-in-law. Oh, happy day!

A few weeks later the full set of bones are retrieved while you think about what you are going to purchase first. Then, the phone rings. It is the former owner of the ranch. He congratulates you and tells you that 2/3 of the bones are his. You immediately run outside and scream. Before you know it, you are in court arguing about bones. Ugh.

Well, that is sort of what happened in a recent case out of Montana. The case captioned, MURRAY V. BEJ MINERALS, involves a dispute over dinosaur fossils found on a property in which the prior owned had a 2/3 ownership right.

The Montana Court found that the dinosaur fossils on the ranch are rare and exceptional and that they qualify as “minerals,” meaning that the ranch’s previous owners retain two-thirds of the mineral rights to them, under terms of the deed.​

The case is actually very interesting. If you would like to read the Court's decision, you can download it here.

So, what's the moral of the story? There are three. First, make sure that you understand what you are buying when you purchase property and what rights you are giving away. Second, Your wife is always right, and Third, trees do add character to a front yard.


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