About a month after your bankruptcy attorney files your bankruptcy petition, you will have to attend a meeting with the trustee assigned to your case. This meeting is called a “first meeting with creditors” or a “341 Meeting” after the code section in the Bankruptcy Code that provides for it. (11 U.S.C. section 341) These meetings are required in both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases.
Who is the Trustee, and what is the purpose of the 341 Meeting?
First, it is important to realize that the trustee is not a judge. The individual Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 trustee that is assigned to your case is merely a lawyer that is appointed to the case by the United States Trustees Office, a division of the Department of Justice. The trustee assigned to your case will generally be on a rotation of local bankruptcy attorneys who are chosen to become trustees by the trustee’s office. The number of trustees varies between districts, but it is not uncommon for a dozen or so trustees to be part of the pool that may be selected for your case.
The trustee has two important jobs: First, she is responsible for administering your estate to your creditors. If you are filing a Chapter 7 case, the trustee will determine which, if any, of your assets he is legally allowed to liquidate and distribute to your creditors. If you are filing a Chapter 13 case, the trustee will be responsible for collecting your monthly payment and distributing it to your creditors according to your Chapter 13 plan. In general, the trustee protects the interests of your creditors. She makes sure that they receive anything they are entitled to from your estate, and she also makes sure that each of your creditors is treated fairly – that one does not end up better off than the others.
The second job of the trustee is to investigate bankruptcy fraud. Your 341 meeting will be recorded, and you will be put under oath before answering the trustee’s questions. Part of the trustee’s job is to report any suspicions of bankruptcy fraud to the United States Department of Justice for prosecution. The types of fraud that the trustee will look for include hiding assets or income, or falsifying the value of assets. It can also include perjury, and tax fraud. But don’t let this scare you, as long as the information you put on your bankruptcy petition, and the answers you give the trustee at the 341 meeting, are truthful, you will not have any problems.
What questions will the Bankruptcy Trustee ask me at the 341 Meeting?
The 341 meeting will usually be very simple and straightforward. The worst part of the meeting is usually waiting to get called up so that you can get out of there! Once your case is called, the meeting will generally last less than 10 minutes.
The first thing the trustee will do is put you under oath, and ask you to provide a drivers license or other form of picture identification, and your social security card. The trustee uses these items to verify your identity.
Bank Statements and most recent pay advice:
The next thing the trustee will do is collect a bank statement from any bank account you have listed on your petition. The bank statement should be from the day after you file your bankruptcy petition and must show the balance of the account on the date the petition was filed, as well as any activity on the account for the previous 30 days. Some trustees request that bank statements be provided before your 341 meeting, so make sure that you give a copy of your bank statements to your attorney well in advance of the 341 meeting.
The trustee will also ask you to provide your most recent pay advice, so make sure you bring this with you, in paper form, to the 341 meeting.
The specific questions a trustee will ask you will vary depending on the trustee, and your financial situation. However, the questions are all generally similar. Here are some of the most common questions that bankruptcy trustees ask:
- Do you still live at the address listed on your bankruptcy petition?
- What is your marital status?
- Have you or your spouse ever filed bankruptcy before?
- Did you review and sign your bankruptcy filing?
- Did you understand the contents of your bankruptcy filing?
- Did you receive the bankruptcy information sheet? (We will give you a copy of this before filing your petition)
- Did you list all of your assets?
- Did you list all of your debts?
- Does anyone owe you money?
- Do you pay any domestic support obligations (alimony or child support) to anyone? Does anyone pay them to you?
- Have you filed your tax return for this year?
- Have you received your tax refund for this year?
- If you received a tax refund, did you spend it? If so, how did you spend it?
- If you did not list a car on your assets schedule, the trustee may ask you what you do for transportation.
- Did your payments to any one creditor total $600 or more during the 90 days before you filed bankruptcy? (The answer will usually be “yes” for secured property you are keeping– examples include car loans and mortgage payments.)
What should I do to prepare for the 341 Meeting?
Just make sure you review this information, and bring your:
- drivers license
- social security card
- bank statement(s) showing the balance of your account(s) on the date of the petition filing
- most recent pay stub
Should I be nervous about my 341 Meeting?
Absolutely not! The questions are very basic and easy to answer, and your bankruptcy attorney will be right by your side to help you through the process.
What if I need to Reschedule my 341 Meeting?
Oh no! 341 Meetings can be rescheduled if there is a really good reason, such as an unforeseen family emergency. But the process for rescheduling is complex. Your bankruptcy attorney will be required to make a motion to the Bankruptcy Court to ask permission to reschedule the meeting. The Bankruptcy Judge may not grant you permission to reschedule if your reason is not compelling, or if your request comes at the last minute. For instance, conflicts with work schedules or child care are usually not strong enough reasons to reschedule a 341 meeting. Also, the earlier you let your bankruptcy attorney know about any scheduling conflicts, the better chance you have of getting permission to reschedule them. So if this is a concern, then let us know immediately!
What if I don’t have my Social Security Card?
This is a common problem. If you cannot locate your social security card, you can always apply for a new card. If you do not have time to apply for and receive a replacement card before your meeting, you can ask the Social Security Administration to provide you with a letter, showing your name and social security number. The trustee will accept a letter from the Social Security Administration showing your name and social security number in lieu of a social security card.
If you have simply forgotten to bring your social security card to the 341 meeting, the trustee will generally go through with the meeting at that time, but will require you to show up at his or her office within the week and show your social security card to verify your identity.
Tell the truth about everything at your 341 Meeting!
You will see a warning sign in the room where your 341 meeting is held stating that giving false information to the bankruptcy trustee is a crime. To be specific it is a very serious felony federal offense. Please do not lie about anything during your 341 meeting. If you have concerns about anything you may be asked you should contact your bankruptcy attorney – that is what we are there for! Attorney-client privilege exists so that our clients can give us candid and complete information without fear of consequences. Please talk to your lawyer about any concerns you have – whatever they are, they are not worth lying to the trustee about and risking prosecution for a federal offense!
Don’t be nervous – we’re here to help!
It is perfectly normal for you to be a little nervous about your 341 meeting. After all, you will be recorded, put under oath, and asked very personal and sometimes embarrassing questions about your finances. It is unfortunate that you must go through this process in order to declare bankruptcy, but it is necessary according to bankruptcy laws. Rest assured that we have been through the process many times, and have never had a serious problem between the trustee and one of our clients.