Before you fully understand the complexity of your clients’ finances, you need information. You probably have a better chance of getting a complete picture of the situation if your client begins gathering this data sooner rather than later.
The search typically begins on a physical level and ends in complex forensic accounting search. Each step has unique challenges.
Finding physical hiding places
If your client suspects a spouse of hiding evidence of assets, fraud or other malfeasance, please begin quickly. It is typically a good idea to search desks, safes, safe deposit boxes and so on.
Again, please start as early as possible, preferably before filing in most cases. As the case begins, or as the spouse learns more about asset division, your client may have less access to these locations of essential information.
Searching shared files and assets
The next step after a physical search would probably be an examination of shared resources and information. For example, you may want to review shared bank account statements and identify suspicious transactions. Tax returns may also provide immediate and obvious clues about hidden assets.
Of course, it requires keen attention to detail and forensic accounting experience to identify the information and sources of such information you need. Sometimes, the evidence is already present in basic financial documents — if you know where and how to look. In other cases, you may need to continue investigating to find records that could confirm your client’s suspicions.
When you advise your client about uncovering hidden assets, it is typically best to make case-specific recommendations and provide simple, step-by-step directions — even including visual aids, if possible. Many people who require guidance in this regard do not handle family finances and, therefore, may not recognize important articles without assistance.