Dear Bankruptcy Adviser,
Back in July 2007, I filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy. I surrendered my home. Now I have an aunt who is 85 and
going blind. She has offered me room and board in exchange for caring for her. Can I convert to Chapter 7
since I will no longer have any income coming in?
We are now a few years removed from the 2005 bankruptcy law change. For the past couple of years, bankruptcy
practitioners were unclear as to an individual's right to convert a case from Chapter 13 to Chapter 7.
Chapter 13 is known as reorganization bankruptcy, in which you make monthly payments for a
three- to five-year period. Chapter 7 bankruptcy means all or most of your debts are eliminated without having
to pay anything back.
The general understanding was that at the time you wanted to convert from Chapter 13 to
Chapter 7, you based the analysis on your income and expenses at the time of your original Chapter 13
filing. Meaning, you could not take into account your change in circumstances to re-evaluate your current
monthly income versus expenses.
At least in Southern California, this appears to have changed. Now, the trustees are looking
at your current financial picture. The trustee is the person assigned to your individual case who determines
whether you qualify for the bankruptcy. I cannot speak for the entire country, but California trustees have
adopted this new, appropriate approach of assessing whether you qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection
based on your current income and expenses.
Typically, people file Chapter 13 for two main reasons, although other reasons exist. One is
that the filer wants to save a valuable asset, like a home. He or she is delinquent on the mortgage payments
and needs to "reorganize" in order to catch up on those delinquent payments.
The second reason is that the filer has too much income leftover after necessary and reasonable
expenses. This additional income prohibits the person from qualifying for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Depending on his
or her income, the Chapter 13 plan period will be from three to five years.
Unless you are leaving your current job to care for your aunt, you probably will have too much
income to qualify for Chapter 7. You said she is offering room and board; therefore, you will not have these
expenses to include in your updated list of necessary household expenses.
If you have decided to leave your
current job, then you might easily qualify for
Chapter 7. You will need to file a motion to convert
your case from Chapter 13 to Chapter 7, along
with updated schedules regarding your income versus
expenses. These are Schedules I and J in the bankruptcy
petition. Provide your most recent tax returns
and, in the case you have left your job, proof
that you are no longer employed.
If you qualify for Chapter 7 now, then you can have your case converted and eliminate most or
all of the debt listed in your Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition.