Debtors and Failure to Turnover Nonexempt Assets

In Chapter 7 bankruptcy cases where debtors have nonexempt assets, debtors have an obligation to transfer those assets to the bankruptcy trustee. It is very common for such assets to be debtors’ tax refunds. In this situation, at the meeting of the creditors, debtors are asked to sign a stipulation which is usually incorporated into a subsequent court order, agreeing to turn nonexempt tax refunds, or a part of them, to the bankruptcy trustee.  If debtors do not do so, they are subject to serious consequences which may include loss of their discharge, contempt of court or monetary penalties. The loss of discharge is the most serious penalty from the debtor’s point of view, since it will leave the debts nondischargeable in this or any subsequent bankruptcy that the debtor may file.

But what if the debtors are unable to turn over such assets due to financial reasons? What if the tax refunds were used for living expenses since debtors simply had no other choice?

This issue was recently addressed in In Re Swan, Case No. 08-11210 (W.D.N.Y. 2014), where Judge Michael J. Kaplan had to decide what the consequences should be for the debtors who had failed to turn over nonexempt portion of their tax refunds to the bankruptcy trustee.  The Chapter 7 trustee sought denial of discharge, as well as a finding of contempt of court and monetary penalties. Judge Kaplan held that in the absence of dishonesty on the part of the debtors, loss of discharge would be too harsh of a remedy and the court should not automatically deny or vacate discharge. Judge Kaplan held that if failure to turn over the assets is not as a result of dishonest conduct on the part of the debtors, the appropriate remedy is a monetary judgment that the trustee would be free to collect. Further, Judge Kaplan also held that if the debtors are unable to turn over such assets to the trustee, they have an obligation to seek immediate relief from the Court.

This case further confirms that debtors always have to try to follow the court’s orders and, if they are unable to comply with them, they have to seek relief from the court. While the debtors in Swan did not lose their discharge, they were held in contempt of court and were subject to monetary penalties. All of this could have been avoided if they kept their bankruptcy attorney involved in the case and notified him of their financial difficulties.

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.