When you file bankruptcy, all of your property becomes part of the bankruptcy estate. The property is then subject to the supervision of the Court and trustee while your case is open. Disclosure of ALL property is required if you expect to be relieved of your debts.
When a debtor files a bankruptcy petition, 11 U.S.C. § 541(a), provides that an “estate” is automatically established comprising all legal or equitable property interests of the debtor, with limited exceptions (ERISA qualified 401(k) accounts are not property of the estate). In addition to property currently in possession of the debtor, the estate consists of property the debtor obtains within 180 days after commencement of the case. Examples are property from an inheritance, life insurance or divorce settlements or “[a]ny interest in property that the estate acquires after the commencement of the case.” 11 U.S.C. § 541(a)(7). Once the estate is created and nonexempt property identified, it is the Trustee’s responsibility to liquidate all nonexempt assets and disburse proceeds to creditors. Don’t be alarmed, many people file for bankruptcy and retain all of their assets through the process including homes and cars.
As part of this process, a Trustee reviews bankruptcy petitions closely to locate nonexempt assets listed as exempt and inconsistencies in identifying or failing to identify interests in property and determine whether the debtor violated his or her duty to disclose all assets. Consequently, even if property is exempt, such as interest in a pension or IRA, it must be listed on the bankruptcy petition. Failure to disclose assets could result in greater scrutiny by the Trustee or a denial of a discharge. I often advise debtors that the most important thing a Trustee considers in reviewing a bankruptcy petition is fraud, not in the traditional definition of the term, but actions or inactions by debtors that raise a red flag. Once that red flag has been raised, every action or inaction by the debtor will come under greater scrutiny by the Trustee. If a bankruptcy filing is necessary to obtain a fresh start and eliminate the burdens of past debt, it is not worth risking a discharge to protect one asset as the risk of losing much more if a discharge is denied and creditors obtain judgements to garnish wages or bank accounts.