After you file your bankruptcy case, the court will schedule a “meeting of the creditors” in accordance with section 341 of the Bankruptcy Code. Thus, the nickname, the “341 meeting.”
When does it occur?
In general, about five weeks after you file.
Do I have to go?
Yes. It is mandatory that you attend the meeting or else your bankruptcy case can be dismissed. If you cannot attend on the scheduled date, it can be post-poned. In rare cases, if you cannot attend due to illness or incarceration, you may appear by telephone or the Trustee may come to you.
Where does it take place?
The meeting takes place in an office environment provided by the United States Trustee’s Office. It does not take place in a courtroom (although Boston cases are scheduled in meeting rooms that are in the courthouse building, the meeting rooms themselves are not courtrooms).
Who is there?
There is no judge present in 341 meetings. They are presided over by the Trustee.
You, of course, your spouse (if you filed a joint petition); and your lawyer must attend.
Creditors are given notice of the meeting, but rarely show up. They are not required to attend, and in the vast majority of cases, no creditors appear at all. Some creditors are more likely to show up than others, for example:
- The Mass. Department of Revenue has staff regularly attending 341 meetings (especially Chapter 13 cases where the debtor must repay non-dischargeable taxes) and they are often helpful for getting up-to-date and accurate tax information;
- Secured creditors in the midst of foreclosure or repossession might show up, and often they are also helpful toward proving up to date amounts due, and instituting discussions about curing defaults or settling their claims;
- Small-time creditors who don’t usually run in to bankruptcy often show up. For example, personal loans from private individuals; or local small businesses, etc.;
- Any creditors who suspect or contend their debt is non-dischargeable or was incurred fraudulently, as a result of misrepresentation, etc.;
- Creditors with a personal grudge or axe to grind, like former business partners or ex-spouses, are frequent 341 visitors;
- Creditors with inside knowledge, like the existence of a cottage or boat you did not disclose, are likely to show up to inform the Trustee;
- Credit card companies might send a representative if there is some impropriety in the use of their cards, such as luxury charges a month or two before filing bankruptcy.
Of course, with diligent preparation, we try to make sure those situations never occur in your case.
There will likely be other people in the room who are not connected with your case, but a just waiting for their own meetings. We encourage our clients to be early to watch a meeting or two before theirs, so they become familiar with the process and don’t get too nervous.
How long does it take?
That depends. Some Trustees are faster than others; some cases generate more attention than others. Chapter 13 cases are ordinarily longer than Chapter 7 cases. In general, about ten cases are scheduled every hour. If your case is simple and there are no issues the Trustee is drawn to investigate, you could be in and out in five minutes. On the other hand, if the Trustee has questions, or a creditor show up and has issues, you could be there a half hour to an hour. In rare cases, rather than keep other people waiting for their allotted time, the Trustee may continue your meeting to another date when more time can be allocated.
Do I Need to Bring Anything to the Meeting?
Yes, there are certain documents you will need to bring to the meeting. You must bring a photo ID (driver’s license or other government-issued ID) and your Social Security card or other government-issued document containing your Social Security number (W-2’s, military ID). Without these documents, the 341 Meeting will not be conducted and you will have to reschedule the meeting.
In our district, your lawyer is required to provided documents to the Trustee in advance of the meeting, such as tax returns, bank statements, auto titles, pay stubs, deeds, etc., so you are usually not required to bring any documents like those. However, after reviewing those, the Trustee may request further documents be brought to the meeting or produced afterward.
What Questions Will Be Asked at the Meeting?
The trustee will have reviewed your petition carefully before the meeting and will be familiar with your income, debts, expenses, tax returns, and pay stubs. Each Trustee has his or her own style. However, you may expect it to be very formal. You will be placed under oath.
The Chapter 7 trustee’s main objective is sell non-exempt property to repay your creditors. Thus, the Trustee’s focus will be on:
- Discovering non-exempt property you failed to disclose on your petition;
- Uncovering non-exempt property that may have been concealed or intermingled or confused by circumstances (tied up in Divorce, trusts, estates, etc.);
- Verifying you are entitled to claim the exemptions you have claimed;
- Making sure your petition and schedules appear truthful and accurate, and there is no cause to dig deeper;
- Investigating any out of the ordinary property or finances to make sure it all makes sense and looks appropriate.
The 341 meeting is the starting point for the Trustee’s investigation into the truthfulness and accuracy of your reported property. Thus, Trustees may “quiz” you on your familiarity with what you reported on your petition and schedules to ensure you disclosed everything and prepared them carefully. If you answer inconsistently from what’s on the petition, it may be a signal that you have been less than honest, and may be cause for the Trustee to investigate further. (Although you should not be alarmed if you are nervous, everybody is and the Trustees are accustomed to seeing nervous individuals). Some Trustees have a pattern of questions designed to melt the ice and get you relaxed, and in the groove of talking about your petition, such as:
- What were the circumstances which caused you to file for bankruptcy?
- What is your occupation? How long have you been there?
- Is your income accurate on this schedule? Do you get overtime?
- Are your expenses correct on this schedule? Why is your food cost so high? Why is your auto insurance so low?
And then, they have pattern questions just to get on record your testimony under oath that you haven’t lied on your petition, such as:
- Have you sold or given away any property in the past two years?
- Do you expect any inheritances or lawsuit recoveries?
- Are you getting a big tax refund?
- Has anyone placed property in trust for your benefit?
What Happens After the Meeting?
The hearing could be continued to another date for the following reasons:
- You need to provide more information to the trustee;
- You are missing required documents; or
- You must amend your petition or schedules.
These are common and you should not be alarmed if the Trustee asks for these.
However, in most cases, the 341 meeting is the first and last time you will appear anywhere in connection with your bankruptcy.
Several important dates and deadlines begin to run after the 341 meeting is concluded. Creditors have a deadline to file complaints against you asserting their debt is non-dischargeable; the Trustee has a deadline to assert you are not entitled to an exemption; the US Trustee has a deadline to assert you are not entitled to a discharge; and the like. In general, most of these deadlines expire about 60 days after the 341 meeting (although the government has longer for tax issues). After all these deadlines expire without objections, you will get your discharge and your case will be closed.
You must also complete the “Financial Management Course” and file your certificate of completion within 45 days after the 341 meeting or your discharge may not issue.