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there is an initial advantage to privacy in one’s financial affairs. There’s certainly nothing good to be gained by advertising your assets out there. Relying on privacy alone as the end-all be-all of asset protection is foolish, though — sort of like turning your radio in your bathroom on while you’re away so that any burglar who might be casing the place will be under the impression that there’s someone at home (sure, who doesn’t listen to talk radio at 3:00 a.m.? They’ll never figure that one out … ). In fact, relying on privacy alone may cause more problems than it resolves.

I’ve been bringing and defending lawsuits throughout the U.S. for almost 25 years now, and I must say that I am unaware of any determined plaintiff’s attorney worth his salt who will be turned off bringing a meritorious lawsuit simply because an initial asset check doesn’t turn up a lot of assets. To the contrary, if a plaintiff’s attorney can get just a hint that the defendant is trying to play games by hiding his assets, he must figure that he can use that to his advantage before a jury, because of the argument that if the defendant is trying to hide his assets behind a veil of anonymity, what else is he trying to hide?

So, how would one find out that the defendant actually is trying to hide something? It’s actually pretty simple. First, the plaintiff’s attorney would initially hire a private investigator who does a little checking, to see if the defendant is living a lifestyle that is much better than his reported income and assets would indicate. This isn’t anywhere near as expensive or as complicated as you might think. I can usually get back a pretty thorough report for under $500.

If the intitial investigation turns up anything (and, I can tell you, it’s going to be hard to hide the fact that you’ve got assets that are simply not on the public record), the plaintiff’s lawyer will figure there’s something fishy going on, and that there’s some hidden money somewhere. From there, it’s a pretty straight line to a set of interrogatories or a deposition in which the questions are asked as to whether the defendant has ever been an owner, registered or otheewise, or a holder of any company stocks, shares, ownership units or other interests, including so-called “bearer shares” of any company, corporation or other business entity. If so, the defendant has a choice of either lying under oath (a bad idea and a crime; perjury) or ‘fessing up (also a bad deal, if the plaintiff’s attorney can show that the defendant has been hiding something with the intent that no one ever finds it). The plaintiff’s lawyer would ask who the defendant has planned his estate with. He’d ask whether the defendant, any person he’s ever affiliated with, any company he’s ever been associated with, or anyone else on his behalf, has ever expended money on an asset protection plan. He might even ask about Bill Reed or Asset Protection Group (there are a few others he might ask about by name as well). In any case, I think the idea that a good plaintiff’s lawyer is going to simply pack his bags and move on for fatter pickings, based on the fact that an initial asset check comes up empty, is fairly shallow. Most of the good plaintiff’s attorneys I know figure that the initial asset check is simply a first step.

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