Monday, October 24, 2011

FAQ #29: What happens if I forget to add a creditor to my bankruptcy?

As we discussed in response to a previous question (Do I have to include all my bills when I file bankruptcy?), every debt you owe must be completely and accurately disclosed in the documents filed to commence your bankruptcy case. Bankruptcy is not a "pick and choose" proceeding. You cannot not put some debts in and leave other debts out. Intentionally omitting debts from your bankruptcy case may result in the non-dischargability of those debts, the dismissal of your bankruptcy case, fines, or imprisonment for bankruptcy fraud.

The bankruptcy court requires that you undertake an appropriate level of “due diligence” to determine your debts and your potential creditors. This means that you need to make a concerted effort to review supporting documentation, such as a credit report, account statements, collection notices, and other information pertaining to the existence of a debt or potential claim. When you sign your bankruptcy petition, and testify at the §341(a) Meeting of Creditors, you are indicating to the Court that your petition is “true, accurate and complete”. Bankruptcy will only discharge “scheduled” debts – meaning the creditor must receive notice of the bankruptcy – and any debt not listed in your creditor matrix may not be discharged.

So, then, what happens if you unintentionally omit a creditor?

In most cases, if the mistake was unintentional (i.e., you forgot about the debt, or did not know about the claim), and you have not yet received your discharge, it is possible to file an amended schedule of your debts to include the missing items. This involves preparing a new list of debts, and preparing a Motion for Leave to Amend Schedules, which is a formal request to the Court for permission to add the new creditors. The Court will almost always allow the motion, but there is a $26.00 filing fee for the Motion to Amend. Additionally, the Court will usually give your added creditors sufficient time to object to claimed exemptions or the dischargability of the new debt. The added time will delay your discharge. Still, it’s better to wait a little extra than to owe the debt following the bankruptcy.

If you have received your discharge and your case has been closed, the process is more complex. You must first request that the Court re-open your bankruptcy case. Cases can be re-opened for any number of reasons, including “to administer assets, to accord relief to the debtor, or for other cause” (See 11 U.S.C. § 530(b)). Courts have nearly universally held that re-opening a case to include an unintentionally-omitted creditor will “accord relief to the debtor”, and will allow the request. The Court will charge a filing fee of $260.00 to re-open a closed bankruptcy case, so be sure to conduct your “due diligence” and get things right the first time.

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