Chapter 7 bankruptcy is available to individuals or entities in significant debt and may be filed either volunarily or by creditors. Once filed, the United States trustee's office appoints an interim, or temporary, trustee. A trustee is someone appointed to manage the estate during bankruptcy proceedings and is selected from a panel of trustees that are eligible to serve. One of the major responsibilities of the interim trustee is to set up a 341 meeting.
What Is a 341 Meeting?
A 341 meeting is a meeting of the debtors' creditors and is required under section 341 of the bankruptcy code. This is the first meeting between the trustee, creditors, and debtor and occurs 20 to 40 days after the bankruptcy filing. Notice of the meeting is sent by the clerk's office to the creditors, trustee and the debtor. Usually the notice will also contain notification of the last date to file proof of claims, or collection interests of the creditor.
Who Must Attend the 341 Meeting?
The trustee and debtor are the only parties that are required to be at the 341 meeting. The debtor may bring an attorney if the debtor so chooses, but the debtor’s physical presence at the meeting is mandatory.
Creditors do not have to show up. Even if a creditor doesn’t appear, he or she still preserves the right to appear in court to collect anything that may be due to the creditor.
Judges cannot appear at the 341 meeting. The ban on judges at 341 meetings is written directly into the bankruptcy code.
What Happens in a 341 Meeting?
Several things occur at a 341 Meeting, including:
1. Selection of a permanent trustee: Initially, the interim trustee will preside over the 341 meeting. This will change, however, if the election of a trustee is requested by the creditors. There are specific guidelines for the election of a trustee, but if one is selected then s/he will become the permanent trustee. If, however, a trustee is not elected, then the interim trustee will serve as the trustee for the case. 2. Examination of debtor under oath
2. The major purpose of a 341 meeting is three fold:
- To determine the status of the debtor's assets and liabilities
- To discover whether any avoidable or improper transfers have occurred or whether assets are being hidden
- Any objections to exemptions or discharges
To do this, the trustee and the creditors, or their representatives, will ask the debtor questions under oath. An appearance by the debtor is required and the questioning is usually conducted by the permanent trustee. The debtor, with or without the presence of a lawyer, may refuse to answer or object to a line of questioning, but the trustee or creditors may request a court order to compel an answer.
3. Trustee's duty to inform: Prior to the conclusion of the 341 meeting, the trustee is required to ensure that the debtor is informed about the effects of commencing a Chapter 7 proceeding. The trustee must make sure the debtor is aware of:
- The potential consequences of bankruptcy and Chapter 7, specifically
- Availability of other options under the bankruptcy code
- The effect of reaffirming debt
Will I Need a Bankruptcy Lawyer?
Bankruptcy in general is a very complicated process. Having a bankruptcy attorney to guide you through the process will make the transition to discharge debt much easier.