This is part 2 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. As mentioned before, it is not unusual to suspect (often correctly) that some assets are not being disclosed. Sometimes, there are clues that an attorney or other layman can find, but other times, it is necessary to bring in an expert forensic accountant to uncover various assets. The following section of the original post by Warren R. Shiell has suggestions about some of the types of financial records that can produce evidence or clues about undisclosed assets.
“The following checklist of research items may assist in determining the whereabouts of hidden assets or if, in fact, they exist at all:
“1. Financial Statements – Any loans from lending institutions require sworn financial statements to be filled out. In most cases, the borrower is trying to impress the lending institution with the extent of assets and may exaggerate these. Looking back five years or so at these statements may put you on the trail of assets which are now unaccounted for, or which show valuations substantially greater than what is now claimed.
“2. Personal Income Tax Returns – A review of personal Federal and State income tax returns and attached schedules filed during the past five years may indicate sources of interest or dividends. The returns may also reveal unknown sources of income or loss from trusts, partnerships, or real estate holdings. You should also review W2's, 1099's, 1098's and K1's.
“3. Corporate Income Tax Returns – If one spouse is the principal owner of a closely held corporation the corporate tax returns should be reviewed for the following: a. He or she may be manipulating his or her salary by taking less pay and then taking loans from the corporation to make up the shortage. He or she may be charging personal expenses to corporate accounts, which will later be reimbursed or charged to the officer's loan account.c. Corporate returns should also be reviewed for excessive or unnecessary retained earnings (undistributed profits). These may be disguise available profit distributions or an artificially low salary level.d. Reimbursement of prior capital contributions or repayments of loans to the corporation may also provide hidden cash flow to your spouse.
“4. Partnership Income Tax Returns – Reviewing several years of partnership income tax returns (IRS Form 1065) may reveal sudden changes in the partnership interest or distributions. Such changes often occur at the time of a divorce and then compensating adjustments are made after the divorce is completed.
“5. Canceled Checks and Check Registers from Personal, Partnership, and Corporate Accounts – While time-consuming, it is always revealing to go over all the canceled checks and bank statements from personal accounts for the past few years, and post the expenditures to different columns under utilities, entertainment, loan payments, and so on. You will learn the amount of total expenditures per year, which sometimes exceeds income, and you will have a better feeling for cost of living and where budget cuts should be made. In terms of hidden assets, you may come across canceled checks for the purchase of property, which you never knew, existed. It is important to check off the canceled checks against the appropriate bank statement to make sure that you have all of the canceled checks. It is possible that certain checks were removed before they were delivered to you. For larger amounts deposits and withdrawals you should review the back and the front of the checks. “6. Savings Account Passbooks – Acquire the passbooks for any savings accounts open during the past five years or more. Look for any deposits or withdrawals that are unusual in amount, or in pattern. A monthly withdrawal or deposit of money in the same odd amount may reflect mortgage payments or income receipts from sources that you are not aware of.
“7. Security or Commodity Account Statements – If one spouse has been buying and selling stocks or bonds or dealing in commodities, the broker with whom he or she trades furnishes monthly or quarterly statements indicating all transactions. A review of these statements going back a few years could reveal the existence of securities of which there was no knowledge or could raise questions as to the disposition of the sale proceeds. Cross checking securities transactions and bank accounts by date and amount will usually verify the source or disposition of the monies involved. If the securities are sold and the proceeds are unaccounted for, you can be sure the money is out there somewhere.
“8. Expense Accounts – Very often, a corporate employer will allow employees a great deal of leeway in their expense account reporting. A spouse may take advantage of this by exaggerating or even falsifying business expenditures. The employer maintains records as to expense account disbursements to the employee over the year with monthly detail. A check of these records will indicate the extent to which the employee is able to “live off” the expense account.
“9. Deferred Salary Increase, Uncollected Bonus, or Commissions – You should always determine whether a salary increase is overdue, when it will be forthcoming, and how much it is. Employers are sometimes sympathetic to their divorcing employees and willing to bend the rules slightly to defer salary increases, bonuses, or commissions in order to suppress apparent income. Ultimately, these increases, bonuses, or commissions must be paid to keep the corporate books straight, and the employer will rarely lie when put under oath or forced to make a written statement on the subject. Sympathy goes just so far.”
By carefully looking at the above sources, you may be able to uncover substantial assets that the other party may be trying to hide. Sometimes, things are just accidentally overlooked, such as a bank account that is inactive. Most of the time, however, during a divorce, it is very unlikely that an unrevealed asset was accidentally overlooked. Follow your intuition and you may find your pot of gold.