Fraudulent Conveyances and Bankruptcy

One of the issues that represents a significant problems for bankruptcy attorneys is that of fraudulent conveyances.  Generally, a fraudulent conveyance is a transfer of money or property from a debtor to someone or something else when either (1) the debtor intends to defraud creditors, or (2) the debtor received less than a reasonably equivalent value in exchange for the transfer, and made it while insolvent. For example, if a husband transfers his house out of his name to the wife so his creditors wouldn’t get it, the transfer is a fraudulent conveyance. Such transfers can create quite a few problems in bankruptcy.

The limitations period for avoidance of fraudulent conveyances has changed over the years, but currently it is two years under the Bankruptcy Code (Section 548) and whatever longer period is available under state law (Section 544). Since I practice in New York, I will use its laws as an example. New York has a six-year statute of limitations for avoidance of fraudulent conveyances.

Earlier this year, in In re Panepinto, Case No. 12-11230 (W.D.N.Y. 2013), Judge Kaplan of the Bankruptcy Court, Western District of New York, found that a transfer of a house to the debtor’s spouse 4 years prior to the bankruptcy filing was a fraudulent conveyance.  In 2008, a judgment creditor was seeking to collect on a debt owed by Mrs. Panepinto, who owned a house with no mortgages or other liens encumbering the property. So, to thwart her judgment creditor, she transferred the house to her husband with no consideration for the transfer.

Last year, Mrs. Panepinto filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, and her judgment creditor sought to set aside the transfer as a fraudulent conveyance under New York Debtor and Creditor Law §273.  The Bankruptcy Court sustained the judgment creditor’s challenge to the transfer. The reason the timing of the transfer is significant is because at the time of the transfer New York’s homestead exemption was lower than today, $50,000.00 rather than $75,000.00. Depending on what the value of the property was at the time the bankruptcy was filed, a portion of the value of the house may not be exempt. Since the court did not have this information presented, the court reserved its decision on the amount of the exemption pending proof of its value.

The lesson is that before transferring ownership in property, a debtor should seek advice of an attorney since any improper transfers may change status of assets from exempt to non-exempt or created other problems if subsequent bankruptcy is filed.

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.