Assets Searching for Debt Collecting and Judgments
by Joe Hoover
Q: Why do an assets search before seeking a
A: To determine if there’s anything worth going after.
Conduct an assets search before suing. Make sure assets will be available,
should you win a judgment. If the person doesn't have anything, why waste your
time and money in court. Find out what you can attach and make stick -
uncontested, lien-free - once you've obtained the judgment.
Some other reasons to conduct an asset search:
• To learn about a person's wages & income: these "assets" can be "attached" or
• Before filing for divorce, learn exactly what property and possessions are
owned and by whom
• If considering investing in a start-up or joint venture, a merger; taking on
You win a judgment in court, and naturally, you want to collect. If you run into
difficulty collecting the court-ordered sum, consider conducting an assets
search to gather intelligence.
First: Ascertain what assets and income the individual has. Make sure the person
has property. Check the County Registrar of Deeds and the County Appraiser's
Know this: The court will not seek to ascertain what properties and possessions
are owned by the defendant in order to collect on a judgment. Once determined
though, the court will issue an order to the defendant to relinquish the
property or possessions and order sheriff’s deputies or constables to grab
assets for you.
Q: Can you get bank accounts? (Note: This is the #1
question asked of information providers by a generally well-informed public –
from lawyers and corporate executives to .regular people.)
A: Two ways to get bank & financial account
• Prosecuting attorney gets a subpoena ordering defendant to appear at a hearing
and provide three months of statements from all bank and financial accounts.
• UCC filings often reveal the name of the bank that financed business loan.
(Note: The collateral put up by borrowers is often subject to judgment debt
Your objective in an assets search is to find bank accounts or something to
attach – like a vehicle, or real property. If defendant has homestead exemption
on the house, you will not be able to touch it.
• An individual's personal property includes everything he or she owns.
• Assets are either personal property or real property.
• Assets are classed as either "tangible" or "intangible."
Tangible Personal Property
These are things like vehicles, equipment, inventory, phone systems, computers,
bank accounts, stocks, bonds, paid-up insurance policies - items of value a
person buys or comes into possession of by one means or another. "Ownership" of
an item is usually determined by "possession".
Intangible Personal Property
These are patents, royalty agreements, promissory notes, contracts, accounts
receivable, wages, or other income.
Note: Many Americans have more than one bank
account, insurance policy, brokerage account, and safety deposit box. An
individual's tax return can be a good source of information about bank accounts,
limited partnerships & investments paying dividends or interest.
You may have to go after the information you need with a subpoena. Your attorney
should demand all pertinent financial records.
Collecting Child Support
An assets search
can aid in collecting child support owed you. Send information discovered to the
child support enforcement agency, which will attach assets. Wages can be
garnished. The mother with children should know where the father works. In the
past, fathers (and some mothers), have been able to hide from the courts for a
long time. That's changed.
Before you set out on your search, you need to know how to go about locating
assets through public records.
Forty-three-hundred U.S. public jurisdictions store records of interest to
people attempting to locate assets. Each jurisdiction has its own set of rules.
• More than eight million Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) filings are completed.
• Four million parcels of real property change hands or are put up for
• Millions of pieces of commercial real estate are swapped or sold.
• More than a half million new corporations start up.
Records of these millions of filings, real property transactions, and new
business ventures are available for your inspection at city and county
courthouses and at repositories in state capitals! This is public information;
the records are open to everyone.
Local Level Search
It's almost always best to start your search at the local level: the city or
county where the filing took place. These records, listed in descending order of
importance, will most often provide valuable search data.
• Real property records
• Corporation records
• UCC filings
• Court records
• Motor vehicle information
• Divorce proceedings records
• Probate records
Salaries and wages are considered assets. If you've won a judgment in court, a
writ of garnishment can be issued so that the debt can be collected. Turn the
information you obtain over to the county where you got your judgment and
they'll take it from there.
Locating the Bank
The easiest assets to attach are bank accounts. If bank accounts are located,
the court will enforce the provisions of your judgment.
There are many important legal tools that can be utilized to retrieve assets
once they have been identified. This section details the more important lawful
• Writ of Execution - This is a common judicial order that directs the
enforcement of a judgment. The writ instructs the sheriff or constable to seize
the debtor's non-exempt property for sale at auction. The proceeds are directed
to the creditor.
• Turnover Order - This remedy is generally applied when there is no
other means that can satisfy the judgment. This orders a debtor to turn all
non-exempt property over to the judgment holder. This remedy permits the holder
of a judgment to cast a wide net to draw in all available assets when the
debtor's property cannot easily be attached or seized by the ordinary legal
process. It is not necessary for the holder of a judgment to first exercise all
other remedies before seeking such an order.
• Bank Levy – This order enables judgment holder to attach debtor's bank
Locate a Bank Account
The law requires filing a financing statement whenever a financial transaction
takes place that involves personal property used for collateral for a loan or
lease. Banks that backed the enterprise are listed.
Real Property Search - Registrar of Deeds
Q: Should a check with the county Registrar of Deeds be
A: Yes. If a recent deed transfer has taken place, and
it appears the transfer was done to escape judgment, the court may find this
Q: What’s worth going after?
A: Not the defendant’s main residence, main vehicle, computer system. Those
items are exempt from debt collection in most states.
Real property is the most valuable and documented of all assets. Real property
recordings are indexed by owner's) name and usually crossed-indexed by property
location. lender, and title company. Value of the property may be determined by
doc stamps or mortgage value.
Call the county assessor's office to learn the assessed value of a property.
(Note: The assessed value of a property is most often not the actual value of
Aircraft & Water Vessel Registrations
Boats & airplanes are assets that can be attached by the court, providing you
can establish ownership.
If a business incorporates, a record of that corporation's birth is on file with
a state agency, usually the Secretary of State’s Corporate Division.
Certain states will furnish information about directors, officers, and the
principles of a corporation, but most limit the information they are willing to
Hidden assets - bank accounts, property, and expensive toys are hidden away or
the title transferred to another person in an attempt (very often successfully),
to retain possession in the face of a lawsuit and judgment. If the defendant is
good at hiding assets, he or she will put everything in their sister's name or
their mother's name, or in the name of somebody they think they can trust -
making ownership difficult to prove.
If a person owns real estate - a lot of real estate - check county records to
see if they've filed quick claim deeds; maybe changed property ownership over to
somebody else. Most assets are moved over to relatives or in-laws. Find
out the wife's maiden name if you don't already know it.
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