Things to Avoid Before Bankruptcy: Item 2 – Transferring Assets to a Close Friend or Relative

Things to avoid before bankruptcy

By David J. Kelly, Minnesota Bankruptcy Lawyer since 1976

This is the second in my series on things to avoid doing before filing a bankruptcy, either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13.

Outright transfers of assets and large gifts are things to be avoided prior to filing any kind of bankruptcy.  An example might be transferring a car or a motorcycle to one of your children, or giving someone a large amount of money or a very expensive gift for their wedding.  Putting relatively large sums of money in a bank account for a child could be another example.  The bankruptcy trustee in a Chapter 7 case may look at transfers like this as an effort to hide assets.  It can be considered bankruptcy fraud and be very detrimental to the case.  The look back on this under the bankruptcy code is two years, but under Minnesota state law it can go back as far as six years.

529 plans have their own special rules about how much a bankruptcy trustee can claw back. 529 plans are educational savings plans that people set up for their child. They have tax advantages similar to a 401K or IRA. But the bankruptcy trustee in a Chapter 7 can claim anything deposited within a year before the case is filed, and there are limits on how much can be protected for the amounts deposited in the two years before that.

A transfer that can be clawed back in a Chapter 7 case will not be clawed back in a Chapter 13, but the Chapter 13 plan payments will have to be high enough so that the unsecured creditors get at least as much as they would have received had it been a Chapter 7. In other words, your plan payment will probably have to be increased to make up for the fact that the asset is there.

One thing I see people often doing is having their pay check deposited into somebody else’s bank account. Perhaps this is to avoid a creditor who has already cleaned out the debtor’s own bank account. You might or might not have a serious problem with your bankruptcy case if this has been going on, depending on all the circumstances. Best policy is to just to not do it.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told “well I’ll just sell that (boat or motorcycle or whatever) to my brother for a dollar.” That won’t work. Rest assured that this loophole was plugged a very long time ago. That’s not exactly an original idea. When you sell something to someone right before filing a bankruptcy, who you sold it to and for how much has to be disclosed. Your relationship if any with the purchaser also has to be disclosed.

There are various exceptions – loopholes if you prefer – to most of the items I have been talking about here. You need to talk with your lawyer about whether what you did in your circumstances is going to be a problem or not. If you are contemplating bankruptcy, talk with your lawyer before making any significant financial movers. I hate having to say “gosh I wish you had talked with me before doing that.”

Why Everything Has to be Disclosed when Filing Bankruptcy

Time in federal prison

I recently noticed a familiar name and face in an article in the Star Tribune.  The headline was “Minneapolis Bankruptcy Trustee Smelled a Rat and Got the Goods on Jewelry Store Owner,” an article by reporter Randy Furst.  The article describes a situation  where a gentleman, Daniel Rohricht, apparently closed his jewelry store, went out of business and filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy.  This was about four years ago.  The debts listed in the bankruptcy came to over $250,000.

Mr. Rohricht claimed that all the jewelry was gone, having all been sold.  The bankruptcy seemed to go well.  One of our local bankruptcy trustees, a lawyer named Nauni Manty, was appointed as the trustee handling the case.  Ms. Manty knows a lot about jewelry and the jewelry business, but there was no evidence that anything was being hidden.  It is the trustee’s job to find assets for the creditors.  But after doing what investigation she could, she accepted a settlement of $17,500 from Mr. Rohricht.  The settlement agreement stated, however, that if Ms. Manty became aware of any undisclosed assets, the deal was off and they were back to square one.

Years passed, but Ms. Manty did not forget Mr. Rohricht.  Eventually she got wind that he had purchased a store in Wisconsin and had gone back into business.  She was able to prove that the jewelry and precious stones that he was hauling into the new store were items he had hidden in 2009 prior to filing his bankruptcy.  To make a long story short, he recently pled guilty to concealing assets and is now facing federal prison and a very large fine.

It’s not unusual that I will run into a person who has something he or she doesn’t want to disclose in their bankruptcy case.  They tend to believe firmly that it is something nobody would ever find out about.  That’s what Mr. Rohricht thought too.  I get asked why whatever it is must be disclosed.  Here’s why.  My understanding is that every year in Minnesota on average two or three people are convicted of bankruptcy fraud.  It’s never happened to any client of mine, and I really want to keep it that way.

This post is for general information purposes only, is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship.  I am a debt relief agency, helping people file for relief under the federal bankruptcy code.