Trustee's meetings exposed! (Part 2)
My last blog post discussed the preliminaries to the trustee's meeting. It ended just as you were taking your seat at the trustee's table and being sworn in. Now the fun starts.
The first thing you want to do when you sit down with the trustee, without being asked, is put your drivers license and social security card on the table, turn them around so that the trustee can read them, and push them halfway across the table trustee so the trustee can easily see them. You don't want the trustee to have to ask you for them. Even worse, if the trustee does have to ask you for them, you sure don't want to be fumbling through your pockets or your backpack or your purse looking for them. Be prepared. Just remember, the goal here is "boring." We don't want any drama at all. We want a short, boring meeting and, no offense to the trustees, but we want to get out of there as quickly as possible.
I find that trustee's questioning falls into four phases: 1) the mandatory preliminary questions, 2) the scary questions, 3) the "pre-recorded" final questions and finally 4) the magic words that we all want to hear.
The mandatory preliminary questions are almost always the same or at least very similar: Is this your signature on the bankruptcy petition? Did you sign it before or after you reviewed your petition with your attorney? Did you list all your assets on your petition no matter where they are located? Is there anything on the petition you wish to add or change?
Once the preliminary questions are over, the suspense begins, because the next thing the trustee will do is take their copy of your petition, and your bank records, and whatever other financial documents we've given them and they will start flipping through them. Sticky notes are never a good sign. The next questions will be targeted questions about something they have found and which concerns them. It might be a recent large deposit or withdrawal from your checking account. It might be a sudden increase in credit card activity in the weeks or months leading to your petition. It might be a house appraisal that, given their knowledge of the neighborhood and the market, might seem inaccurate. Answer their questions as honestly but as briefly as you can. Definitely do not be evasive, but don't be conversational either.
It may very well be that the trustee will flip through your petition and your financial documents and not ask you any questions at all. That's exactly what we want. Again, boring is the hope and the goal.
The next stage of questioning is a set of what I call pre-recorded questions the the trustee will read from a list, usually in a bored monotone. Included in the questions will be whether you've recently transferred any money, transferred any property, closed any bank accounts, paid off any creditors etc etc. These will all be yes or no answers. Usually no. Hopefully usually. Once you get to the pre-recorded questions, you're rounding third and heading for home. The meeting is almost over.
When the pre-recorded questions are over, the trustee will say the magic words that we long to hear: "This meeting is closed." That may not sound too magical to you, but it does to me, because I know those words mean much more than the meeting is merely over. It means the trustee has examined your petition and financial documents, found them to be in order, and you can now move on towards the discharge of your debts. In all likelihood, you will never see the trustee again, and you will never see the inside of a court room. In three or four months, your bankruptcy case will be closed and your debt discharged.
This discussion of trustee's meetings assumed that the debtor had filed a Chapter 7 petition. Chapter 13 meetings will be slightly different, focusing usually on how much unsecured creditors will be paid in your Chapter 13 plan. The closer their payments are to zero, the more questions you're likely to face. On the other hand, the closer their payments are to 100%, the easier the meeting will go.