Can Trustee Search Your Residence in Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?

A question that I commonly hear from debtors in Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcies in Rochester or surrounding  counties, is whether when they file for bankruptcy, someone will come to their house or apartment, and search or remove their assets.  My typical response is to reassure them by telling them that in my experience, any such visits are extremely rare, and would only serve to verify the accuracy of their bankruptcy petition and other disclosure provided during their bankruptcy case.  At the same time, as a bankruptcy lawyer, any such statements makes me concerned, since whether or not someone will actually come to search your house or apartment if you file for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the petition, schedules and statement of financial affairs must to be completed truthfully and accurately. Any attempt by the debtor to conceal assets, or any dishonest statements in the bankruptcy petition or other information provided during the bankruptcy, if caught, are likely to result in a referral to the U.S. Attorney Office for criminal prosecution.  There are currently individuals serving time in federal penitentiary who have been convicted of bankruptcy crimes, including those whose bankruptcy crimes cases were prosecuted in Rochester.  In addition, the financial consequences of the dismissal of the bankruptcy case, and denial of discharge, can be significant, even if there is no criminal prosecution.

With respect to obtaining access to the debtor’s house or apartment, the bankruptcy trustee has the ability to obtain an order authorizing him or her to search the debtor’s house or apartment, with the assistance of the United States Marshall, and to break doors, locks and safes during the course of an investigation. Usually such order will be obtained on an ex parte basis — meaning without prior notice to the debtor to prevent him or her from hiding the assets.

As I have written before, when you file Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you receive the benefit of bankruptcy exemptions.  For most debtors, the exemptions allow them to keep most, if not all, of the property they own.  While each case is fact specific, and depends of the property owned and its value, a bankruptcy lawyer will be able to engage in pre-bankruptcy exemption planning to maximize available exemptions, and to minimize the assets that would have to be turned over to the trustee if their value exceeds permissible exemptions.

Therefore, the bankruptcy petition, and all of the schedules and other documents provided to the bankruptcy court,  should be prepared truthfully and completely, while understanding that the trustee in your bankruptcy case has the ability to get a court order authorizing him to verify the accuracy of your petition.  If the debtor provided truthful and accurate disclosure, he or she has nothing to fear.  As a bankruptcy attorney, I work closely with all of my clients to make sure that they understand their obligations as debtors, but also to make sure they get to keep as much property as they are legally allowed.

If you are dealing with debt problems in Western New York, including Rochester, Canandaigua, Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield, Perinton, Fairport, Webster, Victor, Farmington, Greece, Gates, Hilton, Parma, Brockport, Spencerport, LeRoy, Chili, Churchville, Monroe County, Ontario County, Wayne County, Orleans County, Livingston County, and being harassed by bill collectors, and would like to know more about how bankruptcy may be able to help you, contact me today by phone or email to schedule a FREE initial consultation with a bankruptcy lawyer.