Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of Wally Gobetz

The court has made a decision, but the most difficult part of a small claims case is far from over. Even if the court rules in a client’s favor, there is no guaranteeing that the judgment will be paid. Typically the court’s participation is done once the case is over and the creditor is on their own to retrieve their money. Attorneys have the option to hire a licensed private investigator to perform an asset search if their client is at risk of not receiving their full judgment.

Why is an Asset Search Necessary?

Although it’s beneficial to conduct pre-litigation investigation, this does not always happen. Post-litigation investigations can determine if the debtor will be able to pay up. There are several reasons as to why a creditor will not receive payment. In some cases the debtor might not have the funds available at the time or are filing for bankruptcy. However, some people will go great lengths to avoid paying in full. They may hide an asset in its entirety or be dishonest about the value of their property. Court-ordered examinations on assets often do not go deep enough. Typically, an exam will try to uncover information about things such as:

  • Vehicles
  • Employment Wages
  • Property
  • Bank Accounts

While not everyone will have all of these items, most people will have one or two. A bank account and employment wages are the most common. Since most people have some form of employment, wage garnishment is a popular method of collection. However, there are restrictions on how much one can take out based on income and state laws. Some states also have laws protecting certain property owned by debtors. Vehicles, private property, and personal items such as jewelry are most often protected. If a debtor is able to get an exemption for these types of assets, it can be even harder to obtain a judgment. As a result, it is essential that every possible asset is investigated.

Why Hire a Private Investigator?

As mentioned earlier, the court does not get too involved once a judgment has been made. Even though the creditor is legally entitled to their money, many will never see it. According to one judgment recovery provider, around 80% of judgments go unclaimed. Another important factor is time. As time passes, the likelihood of a creditor receiving their judgment decreases. In most states, the process of receiving a judgment can last up to ten years.

A private investigator will perform an in-depth search of assets that a court will not. Some may think that information on employment and bank accounts can simply be discovered online, but this is not true. In these situations, it’s important that a thorough due diligence investigation takes place by legal means.

Types of Services that Can Assist Attorneys in Due Diligence Asset Searches

Licensed private investigators can provide valuable assistance to attorneys and their clients. These services include locating the following:

  • Current addresses, telephone numbers, relatives, and associates of subject for service.
  • Residential and business property, deed and mortgage information, vehicles, boats, bank accounts, mobile homes, and aircraft.
  • Employers, type of positions held, and information on location and dates of employment.
  • Federal and state tax liens or judgments, bankruptcy, and UCC filings.

The recovery of these items does not always occur, and even if it does, it can take several years. In these situations, a qualified private investigator has the means and experience to legally conduct a thorough asset search and assist a client in receiving their judgment.