Illinois divides potentially unclaimed property into three different categories:
Lost property, and
What you can (or should) do with the unclaimed property depends on what type of property you have found.
- Mislaid property is property that someone intentionally placed somewhere but then later forgot about it.
- Lost property is property that someone unintentionally placed somewhere and now doesn’t know where to find it.
- Abandoned property is property that is intentionally relinquished by the owner, and is free to be claimed by another person.
For example, if I am out to eat and leave my phone sitting at the table when I leave, my phone would be “mislaid” property, because I intentionally placed my phone on the dinner table but then later forgot to pick it up before I left.
If I am out to eat, and my phone incidentally slips out of my pants pocket while I am eating, and is left on the ground when I leave, my phone would be “lost” property because I unintentionally left the phone on the ground.
On the other hand, if I am talking on the phone during dinner and am having bad reception, and yell out of frustration “I hate this phone, it is terrible, and I never want to use it again!” and throw the phone on the ground and proceed to leave the restaurant, my phone would be “abandoned” property because I intentionally relinquished it and left it free to be claimed by someone else.
If you find a lost cell phone or other piece of potentially expensive property, you have no right to claim the property unless you know the property to be abandoned by the owner.
Most likely, the property was mislaid or lost, and therefore you have no right to claim that property. You must have actual evidence that the property was abandoned by the owner in order to claim it.
If you find mislaid or lost property, there is an Illinois statute called the Estrays and Lost Property Act that lays out the process you need to go through in order to claim the property. It is long, tedious, and unnecessary 99% of the time. If you want to claim lost or mislaid property under the Act, you need to file an affidavit with the Circuit Clerk and wait a year for the owner to claim the property. If you jump through all the statutory hoops, you get to keep the property if it goes unclaimed for a year. More than likely, however, it will not be worth it to go down that road.