An Assets Investigation: Several Tips
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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 is issued.
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 the plaintiff.
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 facilitate collection.
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
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 property.
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 asset.
Intangible Personal Property - This category includes patents, royalty
agreements, promissory notes, contracts, accounts receivable, wages or
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 courts.
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
Income/Wages - A major asset that can be attached or garnished is a person's
wages. In collecting on a judgment, child support payments or divorce.
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 or bonds.
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
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
Aircraft - The registration of aircraft is made through the Federal Aviation
Administration. This information is similar in nature to that of motor
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 each year.
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 returns.
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.
How to Investigate -
Investigative Professionals has been conducting thorough background
investigations since 1996 for individuals, employers, property owners
and managers, company executives, financial institutions, universities,
and law firms. Read
Published - May 2010
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