Must I report illegal or previously unreported income in my bankruptcy?

It sometimes comes up that a person who wants to file for bankruptcy has income that is either derived from an illegal source (such as drug dealing) or that has not been reported to the IRS (when it should have been). Also, many people get confused between the reporting requirements for the IRS and those for the bankruptcy court – understandably, they tend to think that these requirements are the same when they are not.

The fact is, you need to tell your attorney about all of your income, regardless of whether it is derived from an illegal source or whether you think it is not taxable or should not count. Not all income is necessarily countable as such for certain purposes in bankruptcy – such as Social Security on the means test portion of the bankruptcy papers – but it all needs to be disclosed to your attorney so that their analysis can be completed accurately.

Illegal sources

A recent case from Pennsylvania highlights a problem with illegal income and failing to report it in bankruptcy. The debtor filed a Chapter 7 and received a discharge of her debts. Later, she was convicted of heroin and cocaine trafficking. As a result, the trustee for her bankruptcy case asked the court to revoke her discharge based on fraud, claiming that the debtor failed to report her revenue from her drug trafficking activities.

The court decided that while the debtor had a duty to report all income, even if it was from illegal activity, the trustee did not meet her burden of proof to show that there was a knowing and fraudulent intent behind the failure to report the illegal income. The trustee lacked basic evidence as to the amount of income and when it was received.

While the debtor in the Pennsylvania case prevailed in the trustee’s action against her, the case serves as a reminder of the pitfalls that await the debtor with illegal income. The debtor who has current income derived from illegal activity may wish to think twice about filing bankruptcy at all.

Unreported taxable income

And the potential debtor who has had income that was not reported to the IRS or to state taxing authorities when it should have been may wish to delay filing for bankruptcy until the tax issues have been defined more clearly. Specifically, any tax returns that should have been filed but were not need to be filed so that any tax debt or refund amounts can be set prior to filing. It is difficult to list a tax debt (or a refund owed to you) on your bankruptcy paperwork if you do not know exactly how much it is.

Additionally, you are required to provide your bankruptcy trustee with copies of your tax returns. Your case can be dismissed for failure to provide these copies.

Photo by Dave Dugdale.

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