Generally, an asset search investigation is requested to determine a subject’s tangible assets- quite often, ordered by a guardian ad litem to satisfy the court that there are no other recoverable assets when injuries exceed insurance policy limits, and just as often to determine financial stability of a prospective partner or employee, (the latter in a position of fiduciary trust).
A basic checklist for the legal professional is to:
1. Relay the need-to-know reason to your investigative specialist. A business partnership dissolution v. a medmal case requires a very different focus.
2. Obtain as much lead information from your client as possible. The more information the investigative specialist is given, quite often, the more she can return and, in a more cost-effective manner.
3. Local hard records are often more reliable than those compiled into generalized databases. The first step in recording any asset begins at a local level. Many information companies provide “nationwide” database information. The drawbacks to commencing an asset search on a “dumping ground” database basis first, however, are
a) records update lag (delays up to 18 months),
b) incorrect data collection errors (many nationwide databases can return results only with exact names – misspellings will often register “no hit” status) and
c) incomplete information.
Another aspect of an asset search is a true analysis of the date factors. For e.g., a real estate asset search may return with a negative hit for current property ownership but check the sale dates of the subject’s latest residences. All too often we’ve come across a recent home sale, leaving the subject with a large sum of money. Always pay attention to timelines.
So now you, the attorney, have the subject’s tangible assets information. The subject owns a CPW pied-a-terre, a home in the Kensington section of Great Neck and a boat docked at the Huguenot Marina. The next step, from an investigative standpoint should be to determine if the subject has any liens, judgments, bankruptcies and other pending litigation, and from there, conduct a full criminal background check.
So how far is far enough with an asset search? Assess the potential settlement/judgment. For a large settlement/judgment, request a full background and asset search (certain convictions can prohibit a person from holding officer position in a business); medium settlement/judgment: basic background and asset search and for a small judgment: a basic asset search.
As always, be safe.