As any experienced attorney knows, winning a money judgment for your client is not always the final step in achieving a successful result. There's the small matter of actually getting the opposing party to pay. Do you even know if the opposing party can pay? Will you take their word for it? Maybe the issue of whether your opponent was worth suing is something you should have determined before you got too far into the litigation. A species of private investigator exists to help lawyers identify what an individual or business owns: the asset investigator.
When an Asset Investigator Is Needed
In addition to prelitigation assessment and postjudgment collection, other situations could call for an asset investigator:
- Collection of any kind of debt.
- Attorneys representing the estate of a deceased may need to help executors satisfy their due diligence in locating the deceased individual's assets.
- Attorneys may need to locate hidden or undisclosed assets in a divorce or other support proceeding, either during pretrial investigation or for a postjudgment modification.
- Litigation involving financial issues may require an understanding of a business' assets for purposes of cross-examining party witnesses or experts.
What You're Hoping to Find (and Not Find)
Asset investigators can help you locate bank accounts, investment accounts, bearer bonds, real estate, stock, Subchapter S corporations, trust deeds, inheritances, cars, and personal valuables such as jewelry and watches. Just as important, information on bankruptcy filings, tax liens, judgments, UCC liens, assignment orders, administrative proceedings, lien sales, and executions will affect your ability to collect.
What to Look for in an Asset Investigation Company
A web search will turn up numerous asset investigators. You might be more comfortable hiring a company that has been in business for a while. The advantage of experience in asset investigation is not hard to imagine. Consider also whether the company has attorneys on staff. Reporting on assets found is one thing, but advice on next steps is even more valuable.
Convenience, of course, is going to play a role in your hiring decision. Is the website easy to use, and is the customer service helpful? Ask about expected turnaround time if you need to get results quickly. Thoroughness of the search can vary, so understand exactly what the company is doing for you vs. how much they are charging. The report generated should look professional and be something you can share with your client. Naturally, all work should remain confidential.
Limits to Asset Investigation
Another reason to hire a reputable asset investigation company is that its investigators must know what is permissible and what is not when conducting the search. Beyond identifying the existence of a subject's accounts at a financial institution, it is an illegal invasion of privacy and in many cases an unfair and deceptive business practice to inquire into the contents of the account. Do not hire a company that claims to be capable of conducting bank account searches unless you want to test the limits of vicarious liability.