It depends. Most courts, but not all, will discharge an unlisted debt if your creditors didn't receive any money in your case. However, in all jurisdictions, a defrauded creditor can ask the court to reopen your bankruptcy and hold you liable for an unlisted debt.
It's common to want to pick and choose the debts you include in a Chapter 7 case, but it's not allowed. You must transparently list everything you owe, including obligations to your grandmother, best friend, ex-spouse, or business partner. The rule prevents filers from:
The bankruptcy court might not "discharge" or eliminate the debt at the end of your Chapter 7 bankruptcy case. Whether the court discharges the debt will depend on several factors, including whether the Chapter 7 trustee distributed money to creditors in your case.
Let's assume that you forget to list a creditor. But your case is like most, and you get to keep all of your property. You have a "no asset" bankruptcy case. The Chapter 7 trustee appointed to oversee your bankruptcy won't have any money to give to creditors.
Most courts would view your error as a "no harm, no foul" situation and discharge the debt. Why? Because the unlisted creditor wouldn't have received anything even if you had remembered to list the debt.
But, not all cases are no asset cases, and not all courts follow this general rule.
Most courts won't discharge unlisted debts when money is available for creditors, or "asset cases." Some courts go even further and won't discharge unlisted debts under any situation.
If your case is an asset case, the trustee will instruct the creditors listed in the paperwork to fill out "proof of claim" paperwork if they want payment. An unlisted creditor loses the right to receive a portion of available funds.
For instance, suppose your state doesn't allow you to "exempt" or protect a rowboat worth $5,000. But you decide that losing the boat in Chapter 7 bankruptcy is worth discharging $35,000 in credit card debt. However, after your Chapter 7 case closes, you realize you forgot to list a debt. The discharge likely won't extend to the omitted debt because the unlisted creditor missed out on a share of the bankruptcy funds from the rowboat sale.
Keep in mind that this is a simplified explanation. You might be able to argue that none of the creditors in the particular class received payment because the trustee didn't have enough funds to fully pay higher priority debts, like tax and support obligation arrearages.
A handful of courts won't discharge unlisted debts in any instance, even in no-asset cases. That is, unless:
And finally, you should be aware that problems can arise in any case involving alleged fraud, regardless of whether the matter is an asset- or no-asset case.
For instance, suppose you fail to list a creditor you defrauded by overstating your income when taking out a loan, and the creditor learns about your Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The court will likely let the creditor reopen the matter and argue that you should repay the debt because of your fraudulent misrepresentations.
Here are some options to consider:
You can, but you'll likely need to file a motion to reopen your case, and before you do, you'll want to know the effect it will have on your bankruptcy matter. Consider meeting with a local bankruptcy lawyer who can explain your court's policies and procedures.
You can learn about your options if you can't afford a bankruptcy lawyer here.
Bankruptcy is essentially a qualification process. The laws provide instructions for completing a 50- to 60-page bankruptcy petition, and because the rules apply to every case, you can't skip a step. We want to help.
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We wholeheartedly encourage research and learning, but online articles can't address all bankruptcy issues or the facts of your case. The best way to protect your assets in bankruptcy is by hiring a local bankruptcy lawyer.