When Is My Bankruptcy Case Over?

Your bankruptcy case ends when the court dismisses it or closes it with a final decree, not when you receive the discharge order.

By , Attorney

Don't feel alone. Not knowing when your bankruptcy is over is common. Many believe it ends after the creditors' meeting, the appearance all Chapter 7 and 13 filers must attend. Others think it's over when they receive the discharge, the order wiping out qualifying debts.

But neither is correct. Here's what you should know:

  • A "discharge" erases your debt, a "discharge order" is the official court form erasing your debt, and the "final decree" is the official court form that closes your case.
  • In Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the court usually closes the filer's case with a final decree shortly after mailing the discharge order.
  • In Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the court usually mails a discharge order and final decree after the filer completes the Chapter 13 repayment plan and submits the final paperwork.
  • You must work with the bankruptcy trustee overseeing your matter until the case closes.
  • The court can reopen a closed case to address problems or mistakes.

The above occurs if you do everything correctly. The court can "dismiss" or close your case without issuing a discharge if you do something wrong or forget a step. You'll find a more detailed explanation below.



Your Bankruptcy Case Is Over When You Receive a Final Decree, Not the Discharge

Unless you make a mistake, such as forgetting to file your debtor education certificate, you'll get your discharge before the case is closed. A discharge is the bankruptcy court's order erasing qualifying debts, like credit card balances, medical and utility bills, and more.

However, the discharge order doesn't close the case. The bankruptcy case will remain open until other matters get wrapped up, which could be a few days, months, or even a year, depending on the circumstances. Here's how this works in Chapter 7 and Chapter 13.

  • In a Chapter 7 case without assets or litigation, most filers receive the debt discharge about 60 days after the 341 meeting. If you didn't lose assets in the bankruptcy, and the court doesn't need to address a motion or lawsuit, the court will close your case with a "final decree" a few days later.
  • In a Chapter 7 case involving assets or litigation, it might take longer to receive the discharge if someone objects to your discharge. Even if you receive the discharge order within months, the case will stay open until the trustee sells property, handles creditor payments, and the court resolves any litigation. You'll receive the final decree once the court is ready to close the case.
  • In Chapter 13, you'll receive a debt discharge after completing your three- or five-year repayment plan. The court will close the case by mailing a "final decree" after the trustee submits a final payment distribution report. The final decree discharges the trustee and closes the case.

You'll find more timing details in After the 341 Meeting Is My Chapter 7 Case Closed?

Your Responsibilities Aren't Over After You Receive Your Bankruptcy Discharge

Complex bankruptcy cases—those involving significant property sales or ongoing lawsuits called adversary proceedings—remain open for quite a while after the court grants your discharge. The court won't close your case until the trustee administers all bankruptcy estate property and files a final accounting.

Here's the kicker—until the court closes your case, you must cooperate with the trustee. Some of the things you might have to do could include:

  • turning over property you couldn't protect with a bankruptcy exemption
  • responding to discover or appearing at 2004 examination (a type of deposition), or
  • testifying in or defending yourself in a motion hearing or adversary proceeding.

When the Court Will Close Your Bankruptcy Case

The cases that usually remain open for extended periods are Chapter 7 matters with hard-to-sell assets, often real estate, or those involving fraud litigation.

Chapter 7 cases without these issues usually close within four months. Chapter 13 cases tend to resolve within a month or two after the debtor completes the repayment plan. Why? The Chapter 13 trustee doesn't sell property, and most litigation resolves long before the debtor finishes making plan payments.

Reopening Your Bankruptcy Case After It's Over

You, the trustee, or your creditors can ask the court to reopen your bankruptcy case. But why would someone want to reopen it?

You might want to reopen it if you accidentally forgot to list a debt or if a creditor is violating your discharge. You could ask the court to reopen your case and address these issues in these situations.

Or, suppose someone suspects that you provided false information on your bankruptcy papers or didn't disclose all of your property. The court could reopen your case to evaluate the claim and, if necessary, instruct the trustee to administer those assets. The court could even revoke your discharge.

Navigating Your Bankruptcy Case

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.

Below is the bankruptcy form for this topic and other resources we think you'll enjoy. For more easy-to-understand articles, go to TheBankruptcySite.

More Bankruptcy Information

Bankruptcy Forms and Document Checklist

Discharge of Debtor in a Chapter 7 Case

Discharge of Debtor in a Chapter 13 Case

Notice of Filing of Final Report of Trustee

Final Decree

Chapter 7 and 13 Bankruptcy Form List

Bankruptcy Document Checklist

More You Might Like

The Chapter 7 Process

Getting a Mortgage After Bankruptcy

How Do I Get a Lien Off a Title After Bankruptcy?

Postbankruptcy Discrimination: What Is and Isn't Allowed

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.

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