Searching for lost assets in California

In many of my California probate cases there are lost assets… or at least my client thinks there are lost assets. How do you track them down?  There are different ways but I am going to tell you about a real case I am working on right now.

When a person dies I advise my client to go through all the paperwork and bank records they can find to look for possible assets including bank accounts, stocks, life insurance, safe deposit boxes, etc…. Basically anything that indicates there might be an asset. I can then contact them and see if there is any record.

In one case, which will remain nameless as it’s still going on, my client found nothing.   However, the IRS claimed the decedent owed over $500,000 for back taxes.  We explained to the IRS that the decedent hadn’t worked for a few years and we didn’t believe he had any assets.  At that point we did sleuth step number 1… IRS TRANSCRIPTS.

I love IRS transcripts. I currently have two different cases where the IRS transcripts have been extremely useful.  They show all income reported to a social security number, the source (i.e. the bank), the amount, and a bunch of other useful information. In this case we were shocked by what we saw.  Tens of thousands of shares of stock being sold, for gains, over the course of a few years.  All one stock… GOOGLE.  I promise you this is true!  The decedent had, apparently, been buying and selling Google stock for a few years.  Most of the transactions were in 2007 and 2008 and there literally tens of thousands of shares sold. Apparently this crazy old guy and dumped all his money into Google at one point early on it appears!

Ok, so the IRS transcripts show tons of Google stock beign sold through one brokerage account. So sleuth step number 2 we subpoened the records for that stock broker to see what the decedent did with all his gains.  We received a few hundred pages from the stock broker and they show hundreds of thousands of dollars going to two different bank accounts.

Ok, I bet you can guess sleuth step number three… yes, subpoena the bank records.  My story ends here as we are just now preparing the subpoenas but we are curious what they will show.  Where did the money go from that account?  Once I find out I will report back as I am curious for sure.

There are other tools we can utilize but the above is a fair summary of the main things we can do. It takes some time, costs a little bit of money, but we can track down lost (or stolen) assets this way.  Plus, I have to admit, it’s sort of funny playing detective. I am genuinely interested in all my client’s dealings but this one has especially piqued my interest.

If you have questions about any California probate or trust matter please contact me or visit our website at for more information.


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