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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

How to Conduct an Assets Search - Locating Hidden Assets

by Joe Hoover

When an individual or a company wishes to avoid being exposed to the possibility of paying out money for judgments resulting from a lawsuit or in personal matters such as alimony or child support, it is not uncommon for substantial assets to be hidden in a variety of ways. This part of the report on locating hidden assets details the manner in which assets can be camouflaged or totally concealed.

Any type of asset can be hidden, including real property, jewelry, stocks, bonds, vehicles, pleasure craft and the most liquid of all assets – money. When an asset is moved or transferred with the intention to defraud, hinder or delay discovery by anyone classified as a creditor, it is then considered to be a hidden asset. This includes hiding of funds from family members attempting to collect on such payments as child support or alimony.

The most difficult of all hidden assets to reach are those that are placed outside of the country in what are called offshore accounts. Certain countries such as the Bahamas, Cayman Islands and Switzerland are known for their discretionary banking laws in which secrecy rules. And these countries do not recognize claims made against assets through courts in other nations. Thus assets hidden in offshore accounts are essentially to be forgotten about by those seeking to enforce judgments, or collect on debts or child support.

WHAT KINDS OF ASSETS ARE HIDDEN

Most hidden assets are of the liquid variety – bank accounts, stocks, bonds and mutual funds. In most instances liquid assets are transferred into the name of a spouse, other relative, friend or business entity. In the most extreme cases, the funds are transferred into accounts in offshore banks where they cannot be touched under the laws of the United States.

Liquid assets can also be hidden by placing them into safety deposit boxes in the names of relatives or friends or an alias. Another method for hiding cash is to convert it into traveler’s checks, savings bonds or stockbroker accounts. Still another method of ridding oneself of cash, but still retaining the value, is to use the liquid asset to pay down a mortgage, overpaying the Internal Revenue Service or pay down credit card balances.
Sometimes a liquid asset is converted into personal property such as works of art, collectibles or antiques. Unless those items are hidden, they can be attached as part of an award in a court ordered judgment, but collection of the property can be difficult to accomplish.

Real property, vehicles, boats, planes and other so-called “personal toys” can also be hidden for the same reasons as liquid assets. When facing a lawsuit, which could lead to a judgment, many people attempt to hide these forms of property by transferring ownership and title to the property to another person or entity.  


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Investigative Professionals performs complete and thorough Background Checks. Run an Asset Search.

How to Conduct an Assets Search - Part One

by Joe Hoover

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 in that they feel there is a reason to hide all or a portion of their wealth from scrutiny.

This article delves into the concept of hidden assets and details a methodology for uncovering such property or wealth. 

 
WHY CONDUCT AN ASSETS SEARCH?

There are clearly situations of a business or personal nature in which it is essential to check for the possibility of hidden assets. Knowledge of such assets can make a big difference in the establishment of grounds for particular types of interpersonal actions or the furthering of certain business relationships. And of course the law enforcement community needs to monitor underworld activities, a part of which is watching for laundered or hidden assets, especially those that might end up being removed to offshore accounts. Thus, an asset search is vital to full disclosure of resources in a variety of matters both civil and criminal. The primary reasons for an asset search in the private or family sector are evaluated below:

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.

Prior to Entering into a Lawsuit – It is important to conduct an assets search prior to filing suit against an individual or company to determine what assets or regular income is present in the event a judgment is ordered by the court (see below). It is not worth the cost of legal fees to file a suit against a person or company that will be unable to pay any court-ordered sum. It is also important to determine what assets or property could be attached on an uncontested basis once a judgment is issued, assuming victory in the suit. If the entity to be sued has nothing of value that can be taken, there is no point in entering into a suit.

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, but collection is the responsibility of the plaintiff.

A judgment will stand for ten years, but can be extended to become permanent. However, this requires that the defendant, who is now considered to be the debtor, be questioned in a deposition or hearing under oath regarding their financial status. If the debtor is going to surrender an item of property such as an automobile or boat, be certain to do an asset search before taking possession. If there are any liens against the property, taking possession may also bring with it liability for the lien.

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. Quite often the errant parent will attempt to hide assets, thus pleading an inability to meet child support or alimony payments. 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.
 

Contestant 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 property.

Tangible Personal Property – This 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. Ownership is determined by possession unless the property must be licensed such as vehicles, boats or airplanes. For those types of property, the ownership is determined by title and registration. For all other property, a sales receipt or cancelled check can be used to determine ownership, but the courts have been guided by the belief that possession is nine tenths of the law.

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 courts.
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Part Two of this article covers the topic of hiding assets.
 

Investigative Professionals performs complete and thorough Background Checks. Conduct an Assets Search