How to find Assets

Ask anyone how to find assets and the most likely answer you will get is “in the bank.” As we chronicled in a previous post titled Can a Private Investigator Get Bank Records or Account Information?, unless you are willing to break the law (or hire someone to break the law on your behalf), obtaining bank or financial records is completely off-limits unless you have either proper authorization or a court order.

Have no fear! Bank records are not the only source to find assets. There are many public record sources that you can also use to find assets.

Here is a list of the 13 most useful public records to find assets:

1Real Property

Property is typically the most significant asset that an individual will ever purchase. Not only can you find the main residence an individual calls home, but you can also identify land adjoining their main residence, out-of-state vacation homes and vacant land in the middle of nowhere.

2Motor Vehicle Registrations

Motor vehicle registrations will not only reveal what car he or she is currently driving, but you may also even find a motorcycle, a classic automobile or even an expensive car collection.

3Watercraft Registrations

Small watercraft or boats are typically registered in a state, but larger, more expensive boats must be registered with the US Coast Guard.

4Aircraft Registrations

All aircraft must be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration and can be registered by either individuals or companies.

5UCC Filings

UCC filings are public information and are filed with the respective secretary of state. UCC filings are typically backed by some sort of collateral that may include expensive equipment, business proceeds from a corporation you were not aware of or even a priceless art collection

6Civil Litigation

State or federal civil litigation may identify a significant financial award, a settlement from a former business partner or a class-action lawsuit that could disclose extensive stock holdings.

7Divorce Proceedings

While not all divorce filings are publicly available in every state (e.g., New York), divorce filings are available to the public in several of the most populous states including Connecticut, California and Florida. Typically, divorce filings contain a statement of assets that includes details of bank account holdings, retirement funds, a rare coin collection or priceless artwork.

8Probate Filings

An inheritance from a wealthy distant relative or a well-to-do grandparent can be identified in local probate filings. Identifying key family members and distant relatives who recently passed away can lead you to a significant inheritance.

9Corporate Filings

Ownership in a corporation, a limited liability company or a limited partnership may be the key to identifying assets not held directly in the party’s name. With private companies, it may be difficult to fully understand the value of the business because detailed financial information is not typically available on private entities. However, the business may also have real property, vehicles, equipment or patents registered in the individual’s name.

10SEC Filings

Publicly traded companies are required to make certain disclosures that private companies are not. These disclosures may include stock options to executives, significant stock holdings by third parties, compensation agreements or even independent contractor agreements with outside parties.

11Patents and Trademarks

While a party may not hold any significant “real” assets, he or she may hold a patent or trademark that could potentially be worth millions.

12Nonprofit Entities

You may not think of a nonprofit when you are thinking about assets. However, money may have been diverted to a nonprofit that is funneling money back to the target individual through expense payments or salary payments, such as the recent allegations against Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea, who is allegedly using his nonprofit, the Central Asia Institute, as a “private ATM.”

13Small Business Retirement Funds

If the party you are looking into owns a business, he or she may have stashed a large portion of their earnings or assets into the company’s retirement plan. Small businesses are required to file an annual Form 5500 with the IRS that provides information about the plan, assets and its operation.

This post is part of a series of posts titled The Anatomy of an Asset Investigation. Our next post will discuss the other side to finding assets – how much do they owe?

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6 replies
  1. Peter Pitorri
    Peter Pitorri says:

    Mr. Silverman, I notice no one has responded to your inquiry, so here is my comment: Many lawyers will do exactly what you have mentioned, that is, ask us for an Asset Search, before they proceed with litigation. FYI, asset search fees range from under $400 (one state) to over $1,200 for nationwide banks, brokerages, vehicles, employment, UCC filings, and more.

  2. Dora Alexander
    Dora Alexander says:

    For Russel Silverman. Do not use any business that claims that they can trace any assets. I have already done this. You will only get public record information. This can be looked up on line. For Bank accounts and Investments you will need a court order. Attorneys want thousands of dollars to do this in Florida. There is no information on how to get a court order without an attorney which is an outrage…considering what they charge.

    • Peter Pitorri
      Peter Pitorri says:

      While most of our clients are lawyers with judgments in debt, now and again we get a private party who furnishes us with a paper copy of a judgment — which she obtained by representing herself.

  3. Dora Alexander
    Dora Alexander says:

    My sister used my father’s power of attorney and stole his assets a month before he died. She also had access to his will account on legal zoom. His will was submitted to probate listing 5 people to receive $20,000.00 each. This was to come from a $100,000.00 IRA. This IRA account was not specified in the will. How can you get a court order to trace this IRA? Attorneys want a $5,000.00 to $15,000.00 retainer in the state of Florida. Then due to the value of my father’s estate it would be close to $85,000.00 in lawyers fees to contest the will.

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