How To Conduct an Assets Investigation
WHY CONDUCT AN ASSETS SEARCH?
There are clearly situations of a business or personal nature in
which it is essential to check for assets. Knowledge of such assets
can make a big difference in the establishment of grounds for interpersonal
actions or the furthering of certain business relationships.
Entering into a New Business Venture - If one is considering investing
in a new business, bringing a new investor into an existing company
or contemplating a merger between companies, it is essential to
conduct a thorough background check on the individual or corporation.
Such a check also includes a comprehensive assets search.
Before Entering into a Lawsuit - Conduct an assets search prior
to filing suit against an individual or company to determine what
assets are present in the event a judgment is ordered by the court.
It is not worth the cost of legal fees to file a suit against a
person or company that will be unable to pay a court ordered sum.
Determine what assets or property could be attached once a judgment
Collecting on a Judgment - When the court order a sum of money to
be paid as part of a civil action, a judgment is issued, this is
simply a court order for the payment of funds. It is rare for the
defendant to simply pay the amount ordered on the spot. The judicial
system only orders payment. Collection is the responsibility of
Divorce - The finances involved in a divorce can often become rather
complicated. It is not uncommon for a spouse to hide assets that
would be open to dispute. An asset search of the party being divorced
is very important to be certain that all assets are accounted for.
Child Support/Alimony - Public child support enforcement agencies
are ill- equipped to locate parents who evade their child support
obligations. In child support cases, once the parent is located,
information regarding their wages or any hidden assets should be
given to the proper child support enforcement agency that can then
Contestation of a Will - Quite often personal assets may be hidden
and not disclosed in a will. Potential beneficiaries or those entitled
to a claim against the estate should search for the possibility
of hidden assets.
WHAT ARE ASSETS?
Everything that is owned is potentially an asset. Stocks, bonds,
real estate, money in the bank, automobiles, RV's, boats, airplanes
and even household furnishings are all considered assets. Personal
assets are classified as either being personal property or real
Tangible Personal Property - Includes vehicles, equipment, inventory,
telephone systems, computers, bank accounts, stocks, bonds and paid
insurance policies with cash value. Any items of value that a person
or a company buys or comes into possession of constitute a tangible
Intangible Personal Property - This category includes patents, royalty
agreements, promissory notes, contracts, accounts receivable, wages
or other income.
Real Property - All homes, condominiums, apartment or commercial
buildings and land are classed as real property. Only a residence
that is protected by a homestead exemption is exempt from being
attached. All other real estate is subject to claim through the
HOW TO INITIATE AN ASSETS SEARCH
Initial Phase of Investigation - Before attempting to locate assets
through public records, it is essential to have the subject's correct
name and address. In some local record searches, the name alone
will suffice without the need for an address.
It is vital to find out not only where the individual lives, but
also their place of employment, if dealing with an individual.
Creditors, investors and government entities have the greatest capability
in locating assets, especially in cases where an individual or corporation
owes monies that are not being repaid.
National Death Index - The Social Security Administration's Death
Index should always be checked to see if, when and where a subject
may have died.
Income/Wages - A major asset that can be attached or garnished is
a person's wages. In collecting on a judgment, child support payments
Defendant's Place of Employment - Professional skip-tracers often
conduct surveillance on a subject by discretely following the person
to his or her place of employment.
Unearned Income - An important source of revenue and includes money
that comes from rental property, dividends or interest on stocks
Subpoena of Business Records - If it becomes necessary to use the
courts to obtain information, a Business Records Subpoena will reveal
payroll checks that have been cashed.
People hide assets for a variety of reasons that range from personal
to business in nature, but essentially they have property or money
that they do not want discovered. Hiding of assets is not always
a sign of criminal intent, but just as often it shows a moral or
ethical failing in a subject's character: They feel the need to
hide all or a portion of their wealth from scrutiny.
CHECKING PUBLIC RECORDS
Public records available in city halls, county courthouses, and
at state repositories, contain valuable information that is essentially
public information available to all who inquire.
Local Level Searches - Always start a search at the city or county
level where most documents regarding real property, corporate data,
UCC filings, divorce and community property proceedings as well
as probate and motor vehicle information are to be found. Within
these records are descriptions of real property; the make, model
and license numbers of vehicles.
Search Jurisdictions - More than 4,300 jurisdictions in the United
States store records that can be useful when seeking to locate assets.
Most of these jurisdictions are at the municipal and county level,
and each sets its own rules governing public access. These are the
records that prove to be the initial basis for any asset search.
- County Assessors Office
- Real property valuation records
- County Records Office
- Property records and deeds
- County Court Records
- Bankruptcy, liens, judgments, business licensing
- Secretary of State's Office
- Corporation records, UCC filings
- State Motor Vehicle Division
- Motor vehicle information
- State Vital Statistics Office
- Vital statistics, probate records, divorce proceedings records
Real Property - Best documented of all assets is real property.
Records are kept at the county level at the County Recorder's Office
or an office devoted to handling the registration of deeds.
Look for quit claim deeds, as these are often filed when a piece
of property is transferred to a family member or friend to be hidden.
Market value of real property is not easily determined from tax
assessments or mortgage balances. Consult a real estate broker will
help to determine the actual value of property in question.
Motor Vehicles - The Department of Motor Vehicles will provide information
regarding ownership, normally charging a fee for this data.
Boats - In each state, the natural resources department will have
information regarding boats or other water-operated vessels that
are owned by individuals or companies.
Aircraft - The registration of aircraft is made through the Federal
Aviation Administration. This information is similar in nature to
that of motor vehicles.
Corporate Property - Corporations, unlike individuals, have no property
exemptions with regard to seizure for payment of debt. Information
regarding the corporation's operations and personnel is available
from the Secretary of State's office in all states.
THE IMPORTANCE OF UNIFORM COMMERCIAL CODE (UCC) FILINGS
The law requires that a financial statement be filed whenever transactions
take place that involve the use of personal property as collateral
for a loan or lease. There is much valuable information in UCC filings.
More than 8 million UCC filings are completed each year. Four million
parcels of real property are transferred or are used for collateral.
Millions of parcels of commercial real estate are traded or sold
Always begin a search of UCC filings in the county where the subject
in question resides. These records are indexed by the name of the
debtor, and they also list the names of secured parties with regard
to the debt.
Banks, leasing companies or individuals who have financially backed
a business enterprise are excellent sources of information.
UCC filings remain active for a minimum of five years, but they
can be extended. The filing in question may include a copy of a
loan application from the secured party or a copy of the loan check
made out to the debtor. Payroll checks, stock dividend checks, rental
income checks and other sources of personal revenue may turn up.
LOCATING BANK ACCOUNTS
Many people of means have more than one bank account, insurance
policies, brokerage accounts or safety deposit boxes. An individual
tax return is a good source of information regarding any type of
account that pays interest. A subpoena is required to retrieve tax
A bank account is highly liquid and is the easiest asset to attach.
Question: Does the person who owes the money have an account at
a particular bank? Answer: There is no central database that maintains
bank account numbers.
to Investigate - Investigative Professionals has been conducting
thorough background investigations since 1996 for individuals, employers,
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Published - May 2010