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 · University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law

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.

After you've learned when your bankruptcy case is over, check out the resources provided at the end of the article. You'll find links to applicable bankruptcy forms and additional articles we think you'll enjoy.

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

The final decree, not the discharge, is the order that closes your case. A discharge is the bankruptcy court's order erasing qualifying debts, like credit card balances, medical and utility bills, and more.

If all goes to plan, you'll receive the discharge before the court closes the case. However, that doesn't always happen. Your case could end without a discharge for various reasons, such as if you forget to file your debtor education certificate or don't complete your Chapter 13 plan payments.

Why the Bankruptcy Case Stays Open After You Receive the Discharge

Most people complete all the bankruptcy requirements and receive a discharge. The final decree usually follows a few days or weeks later because the court clerk needs a few days to send discharge notices to creditors and complete other housekeeping matters. Lengthier delays often occur to allow a trustee to sell property or the bankruptcy court to resolve disagreements raised in motions or lawsuits.

When Your Chapter 7 or 13 Bankruptcy Case Will End

Here's when you can expect the court to close your case after issuing your discharge.

  • 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 the following:

  • turning over property you couldn't protect with a bankruptcy exemption
  • responding to discover or appearing at the 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 a creditor violates your discharge. You could ask the court to reopen your case and address these issues.

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.

How Do You Reopen a Bankruptcy Case?

You'll file a motion explaining why you wish to reopen the case. The judge will review the motion and determine whether to sign an order reopening the matter. The specific procedures you must follow to reopen your case will depend on the local rules in your jurisdiction. A local bankruptcy lawyer will be in the best position to explain the process.

Navigating Your Bankruptcy Case

Bankruptcy is essentially a qualification process. The laws provide instructions for completing a 50- to 60-page bankruptcy petition. You can't skip a step because the rules apply to every case. We want to help.

Below are links to the bankruptcy forms relating to 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

Chapters 7 and 13 Bankruptcy Form List

Bankruptcy Document Checklist

More You Might Like

The Chapter 7 Process

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.

Disability Eligibility Quiz Take our bankruptcy quiz to identify potential issues and learn how to best proceed with your bankruptcy case.
Get Professional Help
Get debt relief now.
We've helped 205 clients find attorneys today.
There was a problem with the submission. Please refresh the page and try again
Full Name is required
Email is required
Please enter a valid Email
Phone Number is required
Please enter a valid Phone Number
Zip Code is required
Please add a valid Zip Code
Please enter a valid Case Description
Description is required

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you