Assets International unites heirs with fortunes

by SANDRA FALERIS | October 28, 2012

Ever wonder if there is an inheritance in your name? Well, Assets International might have the scoop. However, AI is not one of those internet companies that lures in clients for a fee only to come up dry.

Assets International is a licensed investigative agency that specializes in finding heirs in order to reunite them with their fortunes. The agency basically acts on leads from attorneys and other probate professionals who handle estates with missing or no known heirs. It's similar to what bounty hunters do, but with a positive spin and a happy ending.

Michael Zwick, CEO of Assets International, took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to give us a birds-eye view of how the business started and their future plans. Here's what he had to say:

Faleris: What inspired you to start this business?

Zwick: The inspiration was actually my partner's, Neal Duchin's. When she was single, Neal's wife, Chaya, worked as a home healthcare nurse in New York. One client was very fond of her and wanted to leave her some money in his will. She told him that she could not accept.

Years later, after Neal and Chaya married and moved to Detroit and Neal's wife had changed her last name, she called the man's family to see how he was doing. A family member told Chaya that the man had passed but they were all glad she called because the gentleman had bought her a whole bunch of savings bonds but nobody knew where she was. Figuring that his wife couldn't be the only person due money but not knowing it, Neal started Assets International.

Faleris: What are the inherent challenges in this type of business?

Zwick: We often say that our biggest competition is skepticism. In this day and age of Bernie Madoff and Nigerian oil scams, people are naturally dubious that we really have something good for them.

Faleris: What methods do you use? What is the difference between your company and the others that purport to find lost money?

Zwick: We all use the most modern technology, including databases that require security clearances and good, old-fashioned sleuth and genealogy work, including trekking through cemeteries to find a person's heirs. There are a few differences between our company and many others. First, we have all the credentials and licenses that one could imagine. Second, we don't get paid unless and until our clients get their share.

Faleris: How do you see this company growing?

Zwick: Our company is fifteen people strong. As we are more successful, more and more cases come our way from attorneys and other probate professionals who have heard of our successes. We also always have an eye out for new areas where our services can benefit people. For example, in early 2011, we expanded into the burgeoning oil and gas industry to locate missing mineral rights owners who have escrow accounts amassing to their benefit.

Faleris: Do you have any interesting anecdotes that give us an example of your work?

Zwick: The following client comes with the following story. James Glendon Slaughter died in his 30s of a heroin overdose. His wife was pregnant with his only child. Unbeknownst to James, he inherited mineral rights in Limestone County, Tex., before he died.

Forty or so years later, one of the large energy companies drilled in Limestone County on the lad on which James owned mineral rights. After some painstaking research, we located his son, also named James Glendon Slaughter, living in the backwoods of northwest Arkansas.

Last month, we recovered for the son a check for nearly $250,000. As long as the drilling continues, which could be decades, he will get a check every month from the energy company.

A success story, indeed.