A debtor may say he has no assets when he actually owns an art collection worth millions. Or, in anticipation of a divorce, a debtor may convert ready cash or easily-discoverable assets into art, which can be safely stashed away until after a settlement is reached.
Art, like some of the other luxury goods we have discussed such as antiques and wine, is hard to locate because even if it is worth millions, it does not require any kind of licensing or title registration. There may be little direct evidence tying a debtor to a particular art purchase, but you may still be able to find clues that a debtor recently purchased art or stashed a valuable collection.
Unlike jewelry or expensive china, you usually cannot hide an art collection in the back of a closet. Most art is also delicate and requires storage in a climate-controlled environment.
Art storage facilities are fairly rare and may provide a good starting point for a search. A nationwide list of art storage spaces can be found at: http://www.axa-art-usa.com/artprotect/grasp.html. If you have access to financial records or credit card statements, check for payments to art storage companies.
Some high-end art dealers such as Christie’s also offer storage and shipping services. While the debtor may take precautions to conceal large payments for the art itself, look for smaller payments made to galleries or auction houses for these ancillary services.
- We can also search customs records to see if the debtor or any of the debtor’s companies have received shipments from overseas.
- Look for any purchases of new windows or window treatments, such as low-e glass or a spectrally selective window film, which protect art from sun damage. This could be a sign that the debtor is storing art at home.
- Any serious art owner would insure his collection. Increases in insurance premiums and bills from appraisers are clues that art may have recently been insured.
- If the debtor has enough lead time to arrange it, a free method to temporarily and safely store museum-quality art is to loan it out. Look for shipping receipts, loan agreements, or even thank you notes from institutions that display art such as museums, libraries or universities. Pay particular attention to institutions where the debtor has given large donations in the past or with which he has an established relationship.