The Meeting with the Trustee

About a month or so after your case is filed, you will attend a meeting with the bankruptcy trustee.  It will be held at the federal building in downtown San Jose, at 280 S. First Street.

This meeting is sometimes called a “341 meeting” because the meeting is required by Section 341 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.  Sometimes it is called a “meeting of creditors” because your creditors do have a right to attend.  Most of the time, no creditors come.  Even if creditors do come, there are usually no serious problems.  Jim Gold or Jessica Begeman will be there with you and, with the trustee, will protect you from any harassment.  Do not be worried about this meeting!  It’s only a few minutes long.

Jim or Jessica will meet you at the meeting room in the federal building.  Security at the federal building is like it is at the airport.  Do not bring sharp objects.  Cell phones are okay.  Bring your unexpired government-issued photo identification with you.  A passport, driver’s license, or California identification card all work for this purpose – but again, make sure that the card is not expired or out of date.

About a week after we file your case, the court will send you a notice of the time and date of the meeting with the trustee.  The court’s notice should arrive about the same time as you receive from our office your copy of all of the documents we filed with the court to start your case.

You will not need to bring your copy of the documents to the meeting because we will bring all of the original documents to the meeting.  Of course, if you have any questions about these documents and you haven’t contacted our office to answer your questions already, there is no problem with bringing your copy so that it will be easy for you to point out what your question is about.

The court’s notice is a little confusing, and it has some other dates on it also.  Below are links to guides to help you understand the court’s notice that you received.

Meeting with the Chapter 7 Trustee Notice Guide

Meeting with the Chapter 13 Trustee Notice Guide

If you are not sure which date is for the meeting with the trustee, please call our office and we will explain it.  Also, about a week before the meeting, we will send you a letter reminding you about the date and time of the meeting, along with a map showing where the federal building is.

The Federal Building:

View Larger Map

Inside the meeting room:

There is no judge at the 341 meeting.  It’s not in a courtroom.  There’s nobody with a stenotype machine taking notes.  The trustee runs the meeting, and it is in an ordinary room with chairs for the people who are waiting their turn, and a table at the front of the room.  The trustee sits at the table facing all the chairs and there is an audio recorder sitting on the table recording what is said so that if later someone wants to hear what was said it is recorded.  The trustee may have an assistant taking notes sitting next to the trustee, usually using a laptop computer, or the trustee may not have an assistant and may have his or her own computer.

Your name will be called, and you and your attorney will go to the table and sit down.  You will sit facing the trustee, and your attorney will be sitting next to you, at the end of the table with your file and all of your paperwork, just in case it is needed.

Questions asked at the meeting: 

At the meeting, the Trustee will ask you some questions which will vary depending on whether you file a Chapter 7 or a Chapter 13 case.  For either chapter, you will be asked your name and your mailing address, as well as whether you have listed all of your assets and debts in the paperwork filed in your case.

The questions which a Chapter 7 trustee asks are generally about your assets, such as whether you now own a house or have owned one in the recent past, or if you have life insurance which has value that you could borrow against.

The Chapter 13 trustee, on the other hand tends to ask questions about your income and expenses, for example where you are working and whether your income or expenses have changed from the time your case was filed.

The important thing to remember is that you already know the answers to all of the questions that the trustee will ask. The questions are about you and your assets, expenses, and finances, all things you already know.

The bankruptcy trustees in our area are all reasonable people.  If you do not know how to answer a question, it is okay to ask the trustee to ask it again in another way to make it easier for you to answer.  After you understand the question and if you still do not know the answer, it is okay to tell the trustee that you don’t know the answer, but you should try to explain why you don’t know the answer so that the trustee does not think that you really know the answer and are refusing to say it.

If there is a question about something in your bankruptcy paperwork, we will have all of the original paperwork you signed right there at the meeting for you to look at to help you answer the question.  We will also have all the other papers you brought into our office which we copied which we used to answer the questions on your court documents.  If you need to look at something in order to answer a question, we will have all the bills, paystubs, tax returns, credit reports, and so on right there for you.  Nobody expects you to memorize all of your paperwork.  Since everything in your paperwork is the truth, simply telling the truth at the meeting will be enough.

If there seems to be a question of some difference between what is in your paperwork and what you remember at the meeting, we always bring all of your backup paperwork to every 341 meeting so that we can resolve any differences.  Most peoples’ memories are fairly accurate, but if you forget something or answer a question incorrectly, we will have all of the backup paperwork so that you can be accurate.

We bring all of this backup paperwork to every 341 meeting, but we only have a case where we need to look at it about once every couple of months or so, and most often these are in Chapter 13 cases where the trustee has a question about what the value was for our client’s house that our office found online, or something else which isn’t really a question for you to answer in the first place.

None of the trustees in our area ask questions which are intended to trick you or trap you into saying something that’s not true.  And the process is very informal – the only thing that is formal about it is that you are sworn to tell the truth, but the rest of the process is just sitting at a table across from the trustee and answering the trustee’s questions.

Generally, the Chapter 7 trustees have about five or six meetings per half hour, and the Chapter 13 trustee has about ten cases scheduled per hour, and they have three or more hours of meetings in a given day.  Sometimes the meetings take longer than the normal three-to-six minutes because there is some particular point that the Trustee is concerned about, but usually the meetings only take a few minutes.

Creditors do have the right to be at the meeting and ask you questions, but it is actually rare when they do.  Most creditors know that it usually costs more money to send a lawyer to the meeting to ask questions than they could possibly recover, unless they feel that they have actually been cheated in some way.  The normal bills that people owe are easily discharged in a bankruptcy, and people who file bankruptcy with an attorney for the normal credit card bills, medical bills, and so on, do not generally have any creditors at the 341 meeting.

If there are any creditors or their attorneys who do come to your meeting, they will be allowed to ask you questions.  But they are only allowed to ask you questions about a very limited range of topics, such as your assets, liabilities, income, and expenses.  One of the reasons for having your attorney there at the meeting is to listen to the questions that you are asked and keep you from having to answer questions designed to embarrass or humiliate you, or other questions which are improper.  There is no judge at the meeting, but in a sense almost all of the types of objections which could be raised in a trial can be used to protect you at the 341 meeting.