When I prepare a bankruptcy petition in either Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, I do everything possible to make sure that every creditor is included and given a proper notice of the filing. However, once in a while, a Chapter 7 debtor realizes that he or she forgot to include a creditor after the case has closed.

If you are a bankruptcy lawyer, this occurs periodically.  I file a routine Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition, the case goes proceeds normally, the debtor gets a discharge, and, subsequently, the case is closed.  Then, sometime later, the debtor contacts me to say that a creditor was inadvertently omitted.  The debtor explains that that he simply forgot and that it was an innocent mistake. A bankruptcy lawyer may think that this should not be a big problem since the case can be reopened by motion, and an application can be brought to amend the schedule of creditors to include the omitted one.

However, there have been a great number of cases on this issue, with divergent theories and conclusions. Some have held that the case can be reopened, and some have held that it can’t. Some bankruptcy courts routinely grant debtors’ motions to amend schedules to list previously omitted creditors.  Some cases focus on whether there is prejudice to creditors or whether there was fraud.

Some courts will refuse to permit the case to be reopened, because they believe omitted debts are non-dischargeable.  Yet other courts will refuse to permit the case to be reopened because they believe that omitted debts are automatically discharged even if they are not listed, and therefore reopening the case serves no purpose.

There are two possible approaches that courts can take in addressing this issue. Under the “mechanical approach” courts have denied motions to reopen no-asset cases, finding that the debt owed to an omitted creditor is discharged “as a matter of law.”  Under this approach, there is no reason to reopen a bankruptcy case, provided that it is a no-asset case and the debt is not otherwise excepted from discharge.

Under the “equitable approach,” courts consider whether the debtor’s omission was the result of fraud, recklessness or intentional design, or if it would prejudice the creditor’s rights.  Good faith is an important element.  Courts adopting this approach have held that motions to reopen no-asset cases to list omitted creditors should be liberally granted.

For most garden variety situations where the debtor omits a typical credit card debt and advises the attorney within a few years, the courts will probably be unwilling to permit counsel to reopen the case to add the creditor, asserting that, under the mechanical approach, the debt is dischargeable.  In such cases, the bankruptcy attorney should consider sending a certified letter to the creditor stating that the debt has been discharged, together with copies of the notice of commencement and order of discharge.

However, in situations where the creditor raises objections to this approach, the bankruptcy lawyer should be prepared to file a motion to reopen, in which case the court will probably consider the various factors in the equitable approach.

If you contemplating filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, or 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 Rochester, NY, bankruptcy lawyer.