The Bankruptcy Trustee Meeting

by L. Jed Berliner, Western & Central Massachusetts Consumer Lawyer

February 1, 2007

Scary thought, being examined by an agent of the federal government. It’s true. It is scary. It shouldn’t be, but it is.

First things, first. Who is this trustee? She’s the person who will check to see if you have committed any fraud or are hiding assets. By the way, nowhere in the law is there such a thing called a “trustee meeting.” It’s called a “Meeting of Creditors” in the law, and sometimes referred to as a “341” from the statute creating it. To you, it’s the trustee meeting.

At most locations, you will be in a room with five or so rows of chairs filled with nervous, sweaty people like yourselves. Most people hang out at the back of the room, where the comfort level is higher. The chairs at the front are usually empty. There’s a conference table at the front of the room where the trustee sits with his tape recorder. (Sorry. The meetings are recorded.)

The trustee will call your name and you go up to the conference table with your attorney. The meeting will last about five minutes, although there may be up to a half hour wait for it to begin. The trustee generally wants to know (1) if you have anything he can take from you (no, unless your attorney spoke of something in particular), (2) are you committing fraud or hiding assets from him, and (3) did your attorney do her job in explaining the Chapter 13 alternative to you.

If yours is a Chapter 7 case, the trustee will begin by holding up a sheet informing you about the different chapters available to you and ask if you ever saw it before, and if you understood it. These are available when you first walk into the room. He will not test you on it, but he might ask if you know the Chapter you filed under. (The correct answer is “7.” The trustee in a Chapter 13 case doesn’t ask this.)

The trustee will then ask you for picture identification and proof of your Social Security number. She will then either hold up your bankruptcy papers or simply just the signature page and ask questions like:

  • Is this a copy of your signature;
  • Do your papers list all your property and assets;
  • Does anyone owe you money (this is something many people forget about);
  • Do you have any personal injury or car accident claims where you can sue someone;
  • Do you have any interest in a business or a partnership (whether profitable or not, and whether a part-time hobby or otherwise);
  • Are you the beneficiary of any trust;
  • Has anyone died from whom you expect to receive an inheritance;
  • Did you transfer any real estate during the past five years (follow up question: if you received money, what did you do with it; if you did not receive money, why not);
  • What debts did you pay in the 90 days before your bankruptcy was filed;
  • What family debts did you repay within the year before your bankruptcy was filed;
  • Did you use credit cards in the 60 days before filing your petition.

(A more extensive list may be found in the Handbook for Chapter 7 Trustees.)

Chapter 13 trustees will also ask questions about your income and expenses, and perhaps some questions directed to your attorney about your Chapter 13 Plan.

Your job is to answer all questions truthfully, no matter what. You will be testifying under oath. There is nothing to worry about, and you will not get into trouble because of any answer you give. Your attorney already covered everything with you when the papers were being prepared.

The trustee will then run out of questions and your meeting will be over. (Creditors are invited to the meeting and can ask you questions. This happens in Massachusetts very, very rarely because there isn’t any money in it for a creditor to attend.) You will then receive your Discharge from the Court about two months after the meeting.

That’s it. I wish I had the magic words to let you get a good night’s sleep beforehand, but I don’t. You’ll worry and stay up and it is all for these four minutes of fame and glory.

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L. Jed Berliner practices exclusively in consumer bankruptcy, foreclosure defense, and related consumer protection litigation such as credit card defenses and suing debt collectors. He established his Springfield, MA practice in 1988. Attorney Berliner is a regular and active contributor to the Bankruptcy Law Network, the Bankruptcy Roundtable, and the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, three specialized consumer bankruptcy forums on the Internet, and is an informal mentor to regional practitioners. He is recognized by his peers as an expert in consumer bankruptcy issues. He thoroughly enjoys being rated "excellent" in his client surveys.

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Last modified: February 3, 2014