Whether an attorney, business owner or embattled ex-spouse, the number one inquiry we receive is, “Can you find assets?”
In response to a client asking if we perform asset searches or asset checks, the first question we ask is “When you say ASSETS what exactly are you looking for?” The prospective client oftentimes responds with, “I want to find bank accounts and liquid assets…” While liquid assets held in bank accounts and equity type accounts are attractive, finding them is only one facet of actually collecting. Having an active and enforceable judgment via writ, levy or garnishment is imperative as you will need to act quickly and strategically to recover any assets that are found via investigative research.
Prior to conducting bank account research, it is best to do an address history and property search. These are conducted to determine if the debtor owns any property or has transferred any property pre-judgment. Also it is vital to identify the counties in which the properties are owned so that an abstract of judgment can be filed to block a sale, transfer or re-finance without satisfaction of your judgment.
We also recommend that an asset search include an employment search, which is commonly referred to as a POE (Place of Employment) search. If a debtor is actively employed, an attorney can work to garnish their wages and work to recover a debt owed to you.
There are also some other signs that will indicate whether a debtor either has the ability to pay or is truly suffering from financial hardship. Some of these searches include a search of civil case filings for any active litigation or civil judgments. We also search for evidence of Bankruptcy, Liens and Notices of Default.
While an asset search is often focused on tangible assets or employment, another key piece of information to look at is whether or not the debtor party has the ability to generate income. That said, we typically look at professional licenses and certifications. We also look at civil and criminal filings in which the debtor is involved to determine if he or she is employable. If he or she has been convicted of a felony or found guilty of embezzlement or other white-collar crimes, it may be harder to find employment as companies screen for these convictions.
If the client has a judgment from a court, they have the right to obtain a full credit report, search for bank accounts and have their attorney conduct a Judgment Debtor Examination. This puts the legal system to work to uncover any assets that are hiding.
When it comes to looking at privately held businesses, the size and scope has a direct impact on what information is reported and available. Publicly held companies are required to report detailed financial and company information that can be accessed very easily. Privately held companies can be required to provide some basic financial information to the state in which they are incorporated.