In a consumer bankruptcy case (Chapter 7 or Chapter 13), every Debtor is required to attend a Meeting of Creditors (aka: the "341 Meeting" - the name comes from 11 U.S.C. ? 341, which lays out the requirement for the meeting). Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure 2003 mandates that the 341 Meeting must occur no earlier than 21 days after the case was filed and no later than 40 days after the case was filed. For example, here in Nebraska we are in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Nebraska, which covers the entire state. Whereas, Iowa has a Southern and Northern district covering the southern and northern parts of that state. Here in Nebraska, there are meeting locations in several areas including Lincoln and Omaha.
All creditors listed in the bankruptcy paperwork will receive notice of the 341 Meeting date, time and location. Although creditors are allowed to be present, they very rarely are. In the vast majority of bankruptcy cases, there is no benefit to the Creditors by appearing at the 341 Meeting. About 94% of all Chapter 7 cases are "no asset" cases (i.e., cases where there are no un-exempt property that will be taken to pay creditors). If there is nothing to be sold and no money coming, creditors are unlikely to waste the time and expense of appearing at a 341 Meeting.
The 341 Meeting is conducted by a panel trustee. The United States Trustee's Office oversees administration of all bankruptcy cases. This may sound confusing but it's an important distinction. The panel trustee who administers a Debtor's Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy is not a governmental employee. They are a private fiduciary appointed by a government agency and they have a fiduciary duty to the bankruptcy estate, but they are not part of the government. They are also not a judge, so Debtor's should not address the Trustee as "your honor."
The purpose of the 341 Meeting is to allow the Trustee overseeing the case to perform an investigation into the Debtor's finances and ask the Debtor questions to ensure the case complies with bankruptcy code provisions and can be administered. The 341 Meeting acts like a filter for the Trustee. It allows Trustees to efficiently weed through the vast majority of cases with no significant issues and instead focus on the few that have assets to administer or other issues to address. The Trustee has a duty to oppose the Debtor's discharge in rare scenarios under ? 704. Most objections to discharge, however, will come from the United States Trustee's Office, not the presiding panel trustee.
The 341 Meetings are held at specific dates and times. The Trustee will have a "calendar" that normally covers one hour. During that calendar they will have many cases schedules and will call them one at a time. Most Trustees will begin the 341 Meeting with a short statement about their role, what to expect and they will discuss any fliers or questionnaires that Debtors must complete (each local office has their own specific rules when it comes to required fliers to read or questionnaires to fill out). When the Trustee calls a case, they will normally begin by inspecting the identification of the Debtor. It is imperative that the Debtor has a government issued photo identification (e.g., a Driver's license) and acceptable proof of social security number with them at the 341 Meeting. Without it, the Trustee cannot conclude the meeting and the Debtor will have to return another time.
After the identification check, the Trustee will go on to ask a set of questions of the Debtor. Each Trustee has their own way of phrasing the questions they will ask at the 341 Meeting and may have unique questions they ask aside from the "standard" questions almost all Trustees ask. An example of the "standard" questions asked at almost every 341 Meeting include: Did you sign the petition, schedules, statements, and related documents and is the signature your own? Did you read and understand the petition, schedules, statements and related documents before you signed them? Are you personally familiar with the information contained in the petition, schedules, statements and related documents? To the best of your knowledge, is the information contained in them true, accurate and correct? Are there any errors, omissions or changes to bring to my attention at this time? Have you listed all of your assets on the schedules? If you are married, have you listed all of your spouse's assets that you have an interest in? Have you listed all of your creditors on the schedules? Have you ever filed for bankruptcy before? If the answer is yes, the Trustee will usually ask to verify the type of case and what chapter it was, the location where it was filed, the year it was filed, and whether there was a discharge. Do you have a domestic support obligation such as a child or spousal support? If the answer is yes, the Trustee will require the address of the claimant. Have you read the Bankruptcy Information Sheet provided by the U.S. Trustee's Office? Have you made any transfers of any property or given any property away within the last two year period? Do you have any lawsuits pending against anyone where you expect to receive money for any reason? There are many other questions a panel trustee may ask but these are the basic version of the "standard" ones to expect in any case.
In a Chapter 13 case, the 341 Meeting is usually used by the Chapter 13 Trustee to also verify and scrutinize a Debtor's budget to see if there are any additional funds available to pay to creditors. In that that type of meeting, the Trustee often will ask very specific questions about the Debtor's monthly income and expenses.
A Debtor's attorney will be present at the 341 Meeting and will help facilitate the questions and should be able to correct any inconsistencies or errors in the Debtor's testimony. Issues often arise that can create unnecessary continuances or other complications is the attorney not able to clarify and explain them. It is extraordinarily important that that the attorney who appears at the meeting is personally familiar with the information in the Debtor's bankruptcy case. An attorney is useless if they cannot clarify, correct and explain complex issues in the Debtor's case.
Toward the end of the meeting, the Trustee will ask if there are any creditors present. If a creditor is present, they will come up to the table and be allowed time to ask questions. Although the bankruptcy code provides a broad scope for the 341 Meeting, many local jurisdictions restrict the questioning at the 341 Meeting to questions regarding the nature and location of assets. If the Trustee, a creditor, or other interested party wishes to conduct a more thorough deposition of the Debtor, they can request a Rule 2004 examination which will be scheduled for a later date.
After the Trustee has asked all questions and received sufficient answers, they will either conclude the meeting (the vast majority of the time this is the ending) or continue if there is additional information or documentation needed.
For most Chapter 7 Debtors, the 341 Meeting is a bit of waiting to go up to a table and answer 10-15 straightforward questions and then it's over and the meeting is behind them. Approximately 60 days after the 341 Meeting the Debtor will be eligible for Discharge.
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