Uncovering hidden assets

Exactly what is a hidden asset? Several business reference books define it a valued asset that is not listed on the balance sheet of its owner or beneficiary, and/or is moved or transferred with the intention to defraud, hinder or delay discovery by anyone classified as a creditor. Just about any type of asset can be hidden, including real property, jewelry, stocks, bonds, vehicles, aircraft, watercraft, and the most liquid of all assets – money.

Many hidden assets, such as those existing in corporate holdings, various trusts, family-limited partnerships, limited liability companies, charitable foundations, real estate, lawsuit payouts, judgment awards, and vehicle, aircraft and watercraft ownership, can be found through searches of public records. Comprehensive searches of media sources can provide further details about these assets and also supply clues to funds from royalties, contracts, patents, inheritances and other distributions.

The hardest of all hidden assets to reach — and those not reported in public records — are held outside of the United States. Various Caribbean and other island nations, and certain European enclaves are laden with “wealth preservation strategies” that offer secrecy-ruled offshore accounts and asset protection trusts (OAPTs) that keep the creditors away. Financial experts and fraud examiners say that OAPTs are especially popular hideouts because the “hider” can make himself or herself the beneficiary of these trusts, and thus protect the money from third-party claims, consistent with foreign laws which do not recognize the American “fraudulent transfer” concept. OAPTs are nearly impossible to collect against, even with a valid judgment from the U.S. While information for such assets is not publicly available, media reports about mode of living and certain activities can provide indications of possible concealed assets abroad.