What Assets Should I Disclose to My Bankruptcy Attorney?

As a bankruptcy attorney, I’m constantly surprised by the number of clients or potential clients I speak to who believe that, to file Chapter 7 or Chapter 13, they need to move, hide, or sell off assets in order to succeed in their filing. Worse, people often admit that they have been counseled by friends or relatives to hide assets from me, their retained attorney. Fortunately, none of my clients have actually done anything like that, but the fact that so many believe that they should at least consider failing to disclose or hiding their assets suggests that there is a great deal of misinformation about the bankruptcy process at large in the metro Detroit, Michigan area, where I practice.

One of the best rules of thumb in bankruptcy filing is applicable to virtually every area of life: honesty is the best policy. It is always best to disclose all of your assets, right down to your pet gerbil and your baby’s miniature sneakers. Why? First of all, hiding assets is fraudulent and could result not only in the dismissal of the petition that you have paid your lawyer to create and file for you but also could result in criminal charges. If you’re filing for bankruptcy in the first place, chances are good that hiding your mini-bike in a friend’s garage or transferring its title to your cousin’s sister is not going to make conditions appreciably better for you in the wide scheme of things.

Secondly, as your attorney, I am your representative. I am there to make sure that your petition succeeds and that you receive a successful discharge in the end. Attorney-client confidentiality is the bedrock of our relationship, and you can bet that, if you tell me honestly what assets and liabilities you are shouldering, I will tell you honestly how best to deal with it. If that potentially includes advice to wait in your filing or to not file bankruptcy at all, it is best that you know that in advance, straight up, from someone you can trust—if for no other reason than you have paid me to work for you.

However, the bottom-line answer that I give to my clients who ask about such tactics is, “Why would you bother?” It is true that some potential bankruptcy petitioners do have significant assets to deal with. In this economy, many bankruptcy filings are indeed arising from members of the middle and even upper-class who would not have been put into that position in years past. Such filers may indeed have multiple real properties, multiple vehicles, even boats or yachts or significant corporate holdings or cash reserves. Otherwise, though, most Chapter 7 filings do not involve a critical mass of luxury items. Rather, those petitions generally involve the sorts of things that working people tend to have: a home, a car or two, and personal possessions.

If you are one of the minority of potential bankruptcy filers who do have significant holdings of what might be classified as luxury goods, you should indeed face up to the reality that, if you file bankruptcy, you will most likely lose some property, especially in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If you are amongst the majority of potential filers, however, who have gathered the sorts of everyday possessions that most people gather as they go about living their lives, there is no need to worry that you will lose anything: the statutory bankruptcy exemptions provided for by the Bankruptcy Code are quite adequate to protect your personal possessions from liquidation 99% of the time.

Never panic. Always disclose, especially to your attorney. Honesty really is the best policy.

If you are a southeast Michigan resident and are considering filing for bankruptcy, please contact me at (866) 674-2317 or john@hillalaw.com to schedule a free, initial consultation.