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Could you sue? List it in your bankruptcy papers.

Yet another question that I always ask clients is whether they have any claims against anyone that they could file in court. In other words, I ask whether or not they have any potential lawsuits against anyone.

Of course, I do need to know about actual, ongoing lawsuits, but in this post I’m talking about claims the debtor might have against another individual or against a company.

Why would I want to know about possible lawsuits you might have against others that you never filed in court? Because they are assets. They are assets because, if filed, they might bring in some money to you.

Now, it’s true that court fees, attorney’s fees and expert witness fees might eat up a lot (or maybe even all) of a recovery you might get in a lawsuit, depending on how much in damages you stand to recover. But a danger of not telling the bankruptcy court about your potential lawsuits is that you might no longer have the right to sue after the bankruptcy is over.

This is because a person who is filing for bankruptcy has an obligation under the law to disclose all of his or her assets or potential assets to the bankruptcy court. When you fail to disclose a potential lawsuit to the bankruptcy court but then you later (after the bankruptcy discharge) file that lawsuit, you have taken an inconsistent position – you’ve sworn to a bankruptcy court that you had no assets other than those you disclosed, and those assets didn’t include a potential lawsuit; and yet, you then filed a lawsuit after the bankruptcy based on a pre-bankruptcy claim. The law basically says that you cannot have it both ways.

When you file for bankruptcy, a bankruptcy estate is created. All of your assets, including potential lawsuits, become property of the bankruptcy estate, except for those assets you have managed to exempt. If you do not specifically list and exempt an asset, it is property of the bankruptcy estate. The rule of thumb is that it is always a better idea to list it and exempt it than not to list it at all.

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