Kathleen Magowan lived a humble life until her death at 87 in 2011: She taught elementary school for 35 years in Simsbury, Connecticut; lived in a 100-year-old house that eventually sold for $250,000; and told lawyers a few years ago that she guessed her estate was worth about $40,000. Turns out that was a little bit off: Via her estate, Magowan ended up leaving some $5 million to 15 organizations that meant a lot to her, including the school district ($480,000), her nursing home ($400,000), a local university (more than $500,000), and her parish ($375,000), the Hartford Courant reports.
Her wealth—some $6 million—took the form of so many assets and papers that lawyers didn't realize its full extent for two years. A Quaker Oats can in a closet, for example, was packed with savings bonds from as far back as the 1940s; they may be worth $183,000. All this was among a huge collection of other items, including old magazines, records, and files in cereal boxes. "The clothes in the closet were still there from the parents," says a lawyer. "You would never know" how wealthy she was, says a university donations head. "She was low-key, sweet, compassionate." She apparently amassed her wealth with the help of her twin brother, Robert, who died in 2010 and managed her stocks and bonds, also unmarried, he lived with her later in life; the Courant notes that the twins' total net worth was about $10 million. (Click to read about a Seattle man who left behind an even bigger secret fortune.)