The U. S. Trustee — the Behind-the-Scenes Bankruptcy Administrator and Hope-You-Never-Meet Enforcer

In most consumer bankruptcy cases you hardly hear about the United States Trustee (UST). But when you do, he or she can make a lot of noise. And carries a big stick. All the more reason to understand this most easily misunderstood player on the bankruptcy stage.

As my title suggests, the UST has two primary roles—case administrator and bankruptcy law enforcer. These are reflected in this agency’s stated mission: “to promote integrity and efficiency in the nation’s bankruptcy system by enforcing bankruptcy laws, providing oversight of private trustees, and maintaining operational excellence.”

As a bankruptcy case administrator, the Office of the UST appoints and supervises the Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 trustees. It monitors cases so that they are “administered promptly and efficiently.” It reviews and can raise objections to fees charged by attorneys and other professionals in the bankruptcy process.

But it’s the enforcement role we care about, which arises mostly in Chapter 7s. We hear from the UST mostly when there is a question about whether a person in a Chapter 7 case should instead be in Chapter 13. This is mostly a matter of income, and whether the case meets a complex set of rules called the “means test.” The UST may assert that the case is an “abuse” of Chapter 7 law and should either be “dismissed” (thrown out) or “converted” to Chapter 13.

The rest of the time we hear from the UST usually involves some kind of alleged misrepresentation by the person filing bankruptcy. This can arise in many ways, but usually involves apparent contradictory information between the bankruptcy documents and other evidence, or between documents and your oral statements at the “meeting of creditors.” The UST may even receive information from outside parties, such as an ex-spouse or ex-business partner, or from public sources, such as real estate or vehicle ownership records.

Lots of times when we do hear from the UST about any of these things, the matter can be resolved favorably. Assuming that you have been completely honest with us, often we can anticipate and address these issues effectively if and when the UST contacts us. But especially if the challenge comes unexpectedly, it’s crucial to address it quickly, honestly, thoroughly.

Our goal is to have your bankruptcy case go as smoothly as possible, but when for whatever reason it does not, we are in your corner to advise and protect you.