The most important thing to remember if you plan to file for bankruptcy is don’t hide any assets. Even an honest mistake can delay or compromise your bankruptcy case. An experienced Orlando bankruptcy lawyer can help make sure you make all necessary disclosures to the court wherein you do not end up inadvertently hiding anything the law considers to be of value.
After you file for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the court appoints a trustee who is responsible for taking all of your assets-subject to certain statutory exemptions-and paying back as much as possible to your creditors. The trustee typically performs due diligence to make sure that your assets match those listed on your bankruptcy petition. If the trustee has reason to suspect you have failed to list an asset, he or she will file an adversary proceeding in the bankruptcy court against you.
If the court subsequently finds you guilty of hiding assets, you may be denied a discharge of your debts. In some cases, the court may even revoke a previous discharge or refer you to the U.S. Attorney’s office to face potential criminal charges.
FALSE IMAGES CAN LEAD TO REAL COURT APPEARANCES
In recent years bankruptcy trustees have become adept at using social media to look for possible evidence of hidden assets. Remember, anything you post to a social media account-e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et cetera-may be used as evidence against you in court. There is no legal privilege protecting the information you voluntarily publish on the Internet.
This means, for instance, if you state in your Chapter 7 that you do not own a car, but the trustee subsequently finds photos on your Facebook account of you driving a Mercedes, the bankruptcy judge may ask you to explain yourself in court. Even if you were simply driving a friend’s car and did nothing wrong, your seemingly innocuous post is enough to trigger suspicion.
This is not a hypothetical concern. The Wall Street Journal recently reported a case where an attorney representing a Florida bankruptcy trustee saw photos on a social media account of a bankruptcy debtor wearing what appeared to be “expensive-looking gold chains and other jewelry.” The attorney assumed the debtor was hiding assets and sent an appraiser to value the jewelry seen in the pictures. Fortunately for the debtor, it was actually costume jewelry.
Even attempts at levity may be misconstrued as illegal activity. In early 2016, rap artist “50 Cent” posted pictures of himself on Instagram surrounded by what appeared to be $100 bills spelling out the word “BROKE.” The bills were fake, but it was no laughing matter to the bankruptcy judge who hauled the rapper into court and demanded an explanation.
The best piece of advice is to never comment about your bankruptcy on social media. Bankruptcy is a serious legal matter and must be treated as such. If you need advice on how to handle a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy in Florida, contact our Orlando-based attorney, K. Hunter Goff, today at (866) 409-1647.