The government has announced changes to the definition of what constitutes treasure – and the changes have implications for those inheriting treasure.
Under the current definition set out within the Treasure Act 1996, newly discovered artefacts can only be legally classified as treasure if they are more than 300 years old and made of precious metal or part of a collection of valuable objects or artefacts.
However, the government is tweaking this to “make sure the most significant future discoveries are acquired by museums for the benefit of the nation”.
The new criteria will apply to the most exceptional finds over 200 years old – regardless of the type of metal of which they are made – so long as they provide an important insight into the country’s heritage. This includes rare objects, those which provide a special insight into a particular person or event, or those which can shed new light on important regional histories.
A spokesperson for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport told Today’s Wills and Probate that, though the change is not retrospective, there are some issues that those leaving treasure in their will must consider:
“If an object within the new class is discovered following the change in the law, and the finder has reasonable grounds to believe it is treasure but does not report it, then they will have committed an offence under the Treasure Act, and potentially also under the Theft Act 1968.
If they subsequently leave it to someone else in their will, the person inheriting it would not be required by the Treasure Act to report it, however they could be committing an offence under the Theft Act. Any person who comes into possession of an object they believe may be unreported treasure should report it as soon as possible.”