Although there are many valuable services that private investigators offers to their clients, one of the most important is an asset search. Below is an overview of what an asset search is, what types of assets can be found and particular applications it may have if you choose to do it alone, or if you choose to use an attorney to do the work for you.

Why is a Personal Asset Investigation Beneficial?

There are a variety of situations where a personal assets investigation can help you. In general, the greatest benefits will come before any legal action is taken, if that’s the route you choose. In other situations it may be during litigation or after winning a judgment in a lawsuit.

The following are several specific situations that make it clear how locating personal assets for somebody you suspect of wrongdoing can be beneficial to your success in gaining the monetary help you are seeking.

Avoiding a Lawsuit Without a Means to Collect On a Judgment

Many people walk through the doors of a law firm wanting an attorney to file a lawsuit for one reason or another, but the truth is, there must be money or other assets to pay for a judgment if an attorney wins the case. In some situations, an individual will not have enough financial resources to make it worth the cost of an attorney and court fees. For this reason alone, it is important to identify assets of an individual before pursuing a lawsuit.

Insurance is Sometimes Not Enough

Although a business will usually carry some form of liability insurance, an individual may not have any insurance. There may be a homeowner’s insurance policy, but for an insurance company to get involved, the justification for compensating you likely needs to occur on the individual’s property.

In the case of a car accident, most policies limit that amount of liability, so if there is a need for additional money, personal assets must be identified before there is any settlement. Otherwise you may be wasting your money.

Identifying Assets to Collect On a Judgment

It is better to identify assets before filing a lawsuit because you know what an individual has to satisfy a judgment, but if you have already won a judgment for yourself, it is quite possible that you discover that there are no assets to collect the judgment. Since you didn’t know exactly what a person had to begin with, they can simply claim they have nothing to offer when they might be actually hiding assets.

Never mind the legality of hiding assets; people do this all of the time. However, a private investigator can still find assets that have been intentionally hidden because an individual has lost a lawsuit against them.

Identifying Assets Due to a Divorce

Ideally, you want to identify assets your spouse may have before they become aware of the impending divorce. It is common for a spouse who controls the finances to attempt to hide some of his or her wealth from the other spouse. Unfortunately, searching for assets before a divorce is not always possible.

Be careful to not inform your partner that you are wanting a divorce before you seek help. A private investigator has the skills to know all of the ways that a spouse will hide assets. A spouse may think that he or she has hidden assets from a spouse and an attorney, but they seldom think about a private investigator, nor do they appreciate the skill set that a private investigator has to uncover their attempts to hide assets.

Identifying Assets to Collect On a Debt

It is often difficult to collect on debt since so much of it is given up as non-collectable. Like the expense of suing someone for compensation, collection agencies cannot go to court randomly. It is simply not cost effective.

For large debts, it is often worth the trouble of doing an asset search. Sometimes these assets may be hidden and sometimes these assets are in plain view, but it still takes a professional to discover them. Once these assets are known, a collection agency can decide whether a legal remedy is worth the cost. Finding assets is usually more difficult for those who are self-employed and whose wages cannot be garnished.

Identifying Assets After a Death in the Family

Sometimes there can be a fight over the assets of the deceased. This is especially true if the loved one passed away without a will. In this situation, it is often a good idea to compile a comprehensive list of all assets, both known and hidden, of the deceased. This will help determine if legal fees and court costs will be worth the effort in getting the inheritance.

Of course, even with a will, there may be assets that a surviving relative believes exists but is not being accounted for. This can be an issue when the proceeds of the deceased are being divided up equally between relatives. In this case, an asset search may be something that is agreed upon by all parties involved.

Assets That a Private Investigator Can Uncover

A private investigation firm with a lot of experience and skill in finding hidden assets will perform a robust search. Depending upon the specific circumstances that lead to a suspicion of hidden assets, there may be certain types of wealth that are more likely to be hidden. However, there is a wide range of possibilities.

Real Estate

Real estate is often purchased in another person’s name. One common method is to use a relative for the transaction. Although the real estate is in the relative’s name, the asset, for all practical reasons, belongs to the individual.

Another method of hiding real estate is to purchase it under the name of a company. This method assumes that the person looking for assets has no clue that the other person has a company with one or more real estate holdings. However, like many methods of hiding assets, individuals are not attempting to hide these assets from a private investigation firm, and even if they did, they have no idea of the tools that we have at our disposal.

Business Interests

An individual may have a large interest in a particular business but acts as unnamed or silent partner. Of course, the unnamed or silent partner is simply a way of saying that one or more of the business partners is not mentioned publicly, but the money trail and often legal documents will reveal who the individual in question is and the stake they have in the business.

Even a sole proprietorship can be owned by an individual who thinks they are hiding behind a business name, but this can be discovered as well. Often this business will be in another state where a person believes that it will be difficult to determine ownership. However, looking up a DBA (doing business as) filing with the local registrar recorder is routine work for a private investigator.

Life Insurance Policies

Although term life insurance policies are more common today, there are many whole life insurance policies sold as well. This type of policy builds up value over time, and has a cash value that is clearly an asset. Depending upon the circumstance of the lawsuit, it may be off limits, but in the case of a divorce, it may be an asset that needs to be listed by the spouse.

Bank Accounts and Hidden Bank Accounts

This is a popular way people will hide their money, and there are varying levels of sophistication involved. In the case of a spouse, he or she may simply open an account and never tell their partner about it. Sometimes money will be held in a joint account, so it is a new layer of camouflage. An account may simply be in another state at a local bank. The next step in hiding a bank account is to open one in a foreign country. The biggest challenge is the offshore bank accounts. However even these can be identified.

Brokerage Accounts

With the growth of the Internet, it has become easy to open an online brokerage account. A person can trade from this account without telling his or her spouse, so the individual may attempt to hide the money in the case of a divorce.

This can also be an issue with an estate. A person can die and not include this account in their will, assuming they even had a will. Finding these accounts is something a private investigation firm does well. Even though there is no paper trail, there is an electronic trail that is left behind.

Stock Ownership

Stocks owned in publicly traded companies are an asset that is sometimes out in the open, but this does not mean wealth cannot be hidden in stock ownership. It is possible to have a certain percentage of ownership of a privately held company that is off the radar so to speak. It’s not that there is no record of it, but the information is not easy to come by. One method often used is interest in limited partnerships or LLC’s. Many LLC’s are not required to list all persons who have an interest in the limited partnership. A private investigator knows where to look and can often uncover this type of hidden asset.

Stock Options

This can be a hidden asset in a divorce because a spouse simply does not mention it. An employee may have an option to buy a certain number of stock shares at a fixed price in the future. What makes them valuable is that a growing company will likely have a share price much greater that the fix price of the option. A spouse may not believe it to be an asset because the option hasn’t been used, but it is still an asset.

Restricted Stocks

Restricted stock is another asset that someone may not be forthcoming about. This type of stock exists on paper, but an employee cannot use it as an asset until certain conditions are first met. The most common example is a specified amount of time on the job that must have occurred. Even still this can still be considered an asset that needs to be shared.

Income or Place of Employment (POE)

An often overlooked asset is additional income or place of employment (POE), and people will go to great lengths to hide it. Sometimes this income will take the form of passive income. This is income that is due to work that was done in the past or perhaps an investment done a long time ago. Income from royalties or other such money that is paid on a regular basis is just one example.

Sometimes this money can be funneled into a bank account, but it can also be paid in the form of a check that is easily cashed outside of a banking institution. This is the type of income that the Internal Revenue Service is likely to know about, but a spouse or someone looking to collect on a judgment or a debt may not be aware of.

Luxury Items

Another way people hide their wealth is with luxury items that were paid for in cash. Using any type of banking for the transaction such as a check or credit card leaves an obvious paper trail, but cash is difficult to trace. Often items that are paid for in cash are such things as expensive rugs, electronic equipment or collectibles, things that can be purchased for a few thousand dollars or more. These types of assets are usually known to those close to an individual, but it is not something someone looking at a person’s finances would know about.

The information listed above gives you an idea of what some of the possibilities are for finding hidden assets. Of course, how a private investigation firm will help you best will depend upon your specific circumstances. You are, however, going to be better able to get the help you need by providing as much information as possible.

Hiring a private investigation firm with a long history of finding hidden assets will produce information that you are not likely to get on your own. Along with experience, we have a number of resources that are not readily available to the general public. We also have certain tools available to gather information, all done in a legal manner of course that can help you get what you deserve.

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Bruce Robertson

Bruce Robertson is a private investigator and founder of Tristar Investigation, California’s premiere detective agency. Bruce is also a media commentator for the investigation industry, featured in the New York Times, CNN, History Channel, MSNBC, Los Angeles Times and many more. You can find him on Google+ LinkedIn and YouTube.