Operational methods for determining the elements and value of a decedent’s estate
Adam Studziński: We have already discussed the role of the private investigator in dealing with dishonest debtors and how debtors often try to evade their obligations. Today I would like to talk to you about the possible involvement of a private investigator in succession matters. Can a detective help to determine the contents of a decedent’s estate, which the debtor left to his heirs, or that the debtor has inherited?
Tomasz Mostowski: Definitely yes! One of the primary aims of private investigation services is the search for inherited property. More and more detective agencies are specialising in this area. The legal basis for this work in Poland is Art. 2(1)(5) of the Detective Services Act of 6 July 2001. Also, we are vested with a very important power under Art. 28a of that act, according to which a private investigator or a business employing an investigator (i.e. a licensed detective agency) may process data collected in the course of performing their activities without the consent of the data subjects. Therefore, as licensed private investigators, in the course of performing our services, without separate consent of the targets of detective work, we can collect and process information regarding the components of a debtor’s estate or property inherited by a debtor, and the value of those assets.
How does a private investigator search for the components of an estate?
Without giving away too many secrets of the private investigator’s work, I may say that detective activities should always be preceded by professional open-source intelligence and analysis of information already available to the creditor or their legal representatives. In doing so, legal representatives specialising in debtor fraud are often very helpful to the private investigator in collecting baseline information about a given case.
Personally, I believe that it is vital to first determine whether the decedent conducted a business in any form or was otherwise active in accumulating assets, whether they held shares in companies (directly or through an intermediary), whether the decedent used a “front” (concealing the extent of their earnings through activity formally carried out by other persons) or served as a front for someone else (lending their name to a business actually pursued by someone else).
Such measures should also help identify the group of persons who, by virtue of their cooperation with the debtor, should have knowledge of the debtor’s assets or could even be in possession of those assets. Next, it is necessary to gather information on any addresses associated with the decedent, the debtor and their supporters, including any historical residential addresses and business activities of these individuals.
Are there any basic guidelines for a private investigator’s activities aimed at determining the estate?
Yes, generally, the private investigator’s activities should be aimed in two directions. First, disclosing the actual financial situation of the entities in which the decedent was a shareholder or otherwise participated in the profits, and disclosing any property rights of the decedent arising from these relationships. Second, the private investigator should interview persons related to the decedent, examining professional, business, social and community ties. This should provide information about possible assets forming part of the estate, their estimated value, and transfers of specific assets in the hands of other people. The address information may provide a starting point for determining the current and former owners of specific assets and verifying that those assets belonged to the decedent.
Are dishonest debtors right to assume that creditors have little chance of discovering hidden assets, including those forming part of an estate?
Much depends on the realities of the particular case—"the facts,” as lawyers say. But in my experience, as long as measures are pursued in a timely manner and appropriate effort is put into them, they should bring the desired effect. I might also venture to say that there are not many debtors clever enough to plan and execute their fraudulent scheme without leaving any trace of their unlawful behaviour. This is an opportunity for defrauded creditors that cannot be wasted.
Interview by Adam Studziński