Saturday, August 29, 2009

How to Find Hidden Assets -- Part 3

This is part 3 of an excellent article written by Warren R. Shiell in the Los Angeles Divorce and Family Law Blog with tips about how to find hidden assets. Tax returns were listed with some supporting schedules in the 2nd part of this post. The list below includes a variety of other items that may contain the "smoking gun" proving assets have been hidden.

"10. Safe Deposit Box Activity - Banks maintains safe deposit box records indicating when and who accessed the safe deposit box. These records will not indicate contents of a box or what, if anything, has been removed. If the first spouse was aware of the contents at the point when the records indicate the second spouse opened the box and something is now missing, he or she has a pretty good idea of who took it. This information can be subpoenaed.

"11. Cash Transactions and In Kind Compensation - One spouse may be a physician or a shopkeeper, or in some other work where cash is paid, or he or she may receive in-kind compensation, where something of value – other than cash – is given in exchange for services. Such cash payments or non-cash items are rarely reported on the income-tax return, but if you know of such income in the past and can subpoena current information, it will help in proving available income in excess of that shown on the income-tax returns. If one spouse buys things of substantial value with cash, there is probably a source of cash income somewhere. Most people do not retain cash in a non-interest bearing form unless they are hiding the source of the cash.

"12. Children’s Bank Accounts - Frequently, a spouse who wishes to hide money will open a custodial account in the name of a child. Deposits and withdrawals are made without any intent that the child has use of the account except in case of the spouse’s death. The interest from these accounts is not shown on income-tax returns, nor are returns filed for the children.

"13. Personal Knowledge of Spouse’s Habits - One of the most useful discovery tools is personal knowledge of the spouse’s habits with money. People who are attempting to hide money very seldom do so without making some form of written note so they can have a personal account of what they have done. When things are going well in a marriage, the spouse may tell the other spouse about such records, but you can be sure they will disappear in a case of divorce. The more secretive a person is, the more detailed such notes are likely to be. If a spouse has neglected to declare income to the IRS, the knowledge of hidden income or assets may prove to be a powerful leverage factor in reaching a satisfactory settlement. Be careful you cannot threaten to turn someone in or threaten any legal process to negotiate a better financial settlement that would be a criminal act – extortion.

"14. Phone Income Tax Returns - When the divorce has been filed, some spouses are inclined to alter the copies of their previously filed income tax returns to hide or adjust pertinent financial information. It is always a good idea to ask for copies of jointly filed returns directly from the Internal Revenue Service on Form 4506-T.

"15. Phony Loans or Debts - To keep cash from being divided, a spouse may sometimes attempt to bury the money with a phony loan to a cooperative friend or relative. The loan may be tied up with a long-term note or with a claimed likelihood of not being collectible so as to remove this money from consideration at settlement time. The other spouse, who was never aware of the debt, of course did not sign the note, because it probably came into existence after the divorce proceedings commenced. Sudden payment of debts to out-of-state creditors who are not available for deposition is usually a sign that the debt is a phony.

"16. 'Friends' or Other Phonies on the Payroll - If one spouse is in a position to control the payroll of a sole proprietorship, partnership, or closely held corporation, he or she may be paying salaries to a friend or relative who is not actually providing services commensurate with the compensation. The friend on the payroll may be stashing the money away or they may both be enjoying it. In either case, the profit of the enterprise will be reduced accordingly and your spouse may be drawing a lesser salary. The same ploy can be used for payment to phony independent contractors.

"17. Retirement Plan Abuse - If one spouse has established a pension or profit-sharing plan in connection with a closely held corporation, the plan should be carefully reviewed to determine whether monies that have been contributed to the account are being invested in accordance with the plan requirements. Very often, deductions will be taken for contributions to such plans, and then the money is used for personal living expenses or taken out as loans, which are never repaid.

"18. Defined Benefit Pension Plans - Defined-benefit pension plans are distinguished from defined-contribution plans by the fact that the benefits payable at retirement age are specified within the plan itself rather than by some contribution formula. The amount of the benefits then must be actuarially calculated, based on the age of the intended beneficiary and the point at which benefits are to be paid. A great deal of income can be buried by substantial payments into such a plan during the years preceding or during divorce litigation. The required payments could be a substantial part of the employee-spouse’s income, if that is what is required to achieve the defined goal at retirement. This, of course, leaves little money available for support or division as marital property. Once the divorce is completed, the defined-benefit plan can be discarded, even though a substantial tax loss may result.

"19. Estate, Gift and Inheritance Tax Returns - Much useful information is available from inheritance, estate, or gift-tax returns of relatives you believe have been generous to the spouse. If these returns show that there were substantial gifts or bequests that have not been accounted for in the settlement negotiations, you are alerted that other assets could also be hidden. A tracing will have to be made from the estate’s distribution to see what has happened to the assets."

Obviously, there may be clues to misconduct in a wide variety of contexts. Using the list here, and the prior lists and sources, you can have a good chance of proving that assets are hidden or missing. That should improve your chances of receiving an appropriate share of the assets and you may have the opportunity to shine the spotlight on your spouse's bad behavior. Most judges will get really upset if/when they become convinced someone has been dishonest to them and to the court system.

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