Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Do’s and Don’ts

Posted on May 25, 2016 By Nick Gajewski

Nick-GajewskiUnlike a Chapter 7 liquidation bankruptcy case, a Chapter 13 reorganization case can last for several years.  In fact, typically a Chapter 13 case must last for at least 36 months and can continue for as much as 60 months, or 5 years.  Clearly the Court can’t expect someone to put their life on hold for 5 years.  This blog post will lay out some of the things you can and cannot do while in a Chapter 13 case.

Don’t Sell Any Property

First, don’t sell any property without Court approval.  When you file a Bankruptcy case, you create something called the “Bankruptcy Estate.”  The Estate is comprised of all of your assets, with just a few exceptions.  Generally any real estate or vehicles you have will be a part of the Estate.  Any property, real or personal, that is a part of the Estate cannot be sold or transferred unless the Court approves the transfer.  The rationale behind this is that the Court doesn’t want people trying to hide assets.  If a person sells 100 acres of land to his brother for $20, then its obvious that the “sale” was just to get the land out of his name in the first place. As long as the sale is an arms-length transaction and for a fair market value, the Court shouldn’t have any issues.

Don’t Use Credit

Second, don’t use credit while you’re in a Chapter 13 case.  Despite what you may think about bankruptcy ruining your credit, it is actually surprisingly common for creditors to offer loans to people who have filed cases.  However, the purpose behind filing a case in the first place is to get you OUT of debt, not into more of it.  For this reason, the Court has to be notified anytime you intend to use credit or borrow money while still in a Chapter 13 case.  The Court wants to make sure that you won’t get right back into a bad financial situation or be taken advantage of by a creditor.  Typically this issue comes up for people who need to buy new cars.  The Court realizes that having a vehicle is a basic necessity of modern life, so most Courts have procedures to follow to be approved to use credit in case your old car is wrecked or completely breaks down.  Just be sure to check with a qualified bankruptcy attorney who can help you through your Court’s procedures.

Don’t Keep Anything From Your Attorney

Don’t forget to tell your bankruptcy attorney about any lawsuit or potential lawsuit you may be a part of.  No one ever plans to be part of a lawsuit, but it is an unfortunate reality that accidents happen.  If you’re in a car wreck or you’re injured while you are in a Chapter 13 case, and you are considering filing a lawsuit to recover for your injuries, make sure you tell your bankruptcy attorney.  When you’re in a Chapter 13 case, you have a duty to disclose lawsuits to the Court.  If you don’t do so, then the party you file a case against can use that failure to disclose as a defense against the lawsuit.  Basically, you can lose the case automatically.  The consequences can mean you may never be able to get reimbursed for medical costs or other injuries you’ve suffered if you don’t communicate with your bankruptcy attorney or the Court.

Do Tell Your Attorney About Additional Income

Fourth, do be sure to let your attorney know if you’re going to receive money from an outside source.  The most common situations are when a person receives money from insurance or from an inheritance.

Insurance Money

Suppose you are in a car wreck and your insurance company is going to be paying you the proceeds from your insurance policy to help you buy a new vehicle.  Before your insurance company can do so, the Court has to enter an order directing the insurance company where to send the funds.  Typically, if your car was a part of the Chapter 13 case, the Court will direct the insurance money to go to the Chapter 13 Trustee to be used to pay off the remaining debt on the vehicle.  If there are any funds left over, your attorney can request that they be distributed to you to use.  If you don’t notify your attorney that you’ve been in a wreck and will be receiving money, then it can greatly delay the entire process and keep you from getting a replacement vehicle.

Inheritance Money

Likewise, be sure to notify your attorney if you will be receiving an inheritance of any kind.  Bankruptcy is usually the last thing on a person’s mind after losing a loved one, but failing to disclose this information to the Court can be devastating to your case.  If you will be receiving an inheritance (either real estate or cash), then you must tell your bankruptcy attorney.  Typically, if you will be receiving money from an inheritance, you may be able to claim some of it as exempt.  Anything that cannot be exempted has to be paid into the Court.  They will use the inheritance to finish paying off the case, and return any excess funds back to you.

I know you may think it is unfair to use inheritance to pay your debts, but trying to hide an inheritance from the Court could be much, much worse.  The Court has the power to dismiss your case immediately for failure to disclose information.  Further, if the Judge determines you tried to lie or falsify information to the Court, then he may even impose a denial of discharge, effectively making it impossible for you to file bankruptcy again.  Since lying to the Court is considered perjury, the Judge could also turn your case over to the US Attorney’s office for criminal prosecution.

A Chapter 13 case can provide a huge relief from your debts and help you reorganize your financial life.  However, as you can see, the process can be lengthy and difficult.  Very rarely will a case make it all the way to completion without the help of an experienced attorney.  At Bond & Botes, our attorneys specialize in helping people navigate the difficulties in the Chapter 13 process.  If you are considering filing, don’t go through it alone.  Each of our convenient locations offers free initial consultations.  We’d be happy to help guide you back to financial security.