My parents passed away a year ago. I was estranged from them. My sister was the sole beneficiary of the estate and I was told I was getting nothing. I had my meeting with the bankruptcy trustee today and the trustee asked if I was expecting any inheritance in the next 6 months. I said no. I got home and my sister said she sold our parent’s house. She wrote me a check for a share of the proceeds. I was not in any way shape or form expecting this money. What should I do??

The starting point to understand this question is found in Bankruptcy Code section 541(a)(5)(A):

The bankruptcy estate is comprised of all the following property, wherever located and by whomever held of any interest in property that would have been property of the estate if such interest had been an interest of the debtor on the date of the filing of the petition, and that the debtor acquires or becomes entitled to acquire within 180 days after such date . . .by bequest, devise, or inheritance.

In short, any inheritance a debtor becomes entitled to within 6 months after a case is filed is considered property owned on the date the case was filed. In other words, if a person dies within 6 months after a case is filed and leaves the debtor an inheritance, that must be reported.

In this case, the debtor’s parents died one year before the bankruptcy was filed and she did not expect any inheritance, so it is doubtful she reported any inheritance to the bankruptcy court when the case was filed.

What is not clear from this question is why her sister wrote her a check from the sale of the home. Did she write a check because the debtor was entitled to the money or did the sister just feel it was the right thing to do and made a gift of her inheritance to the debtor?

If the debtor was entitled to the money because of her parent’s Will or Living Trust, then the inheritance must be reported to the bankruptcy court.

On the other hand, if the sister was just being generous, the debtor’s duty to report the money will vary on whether this is a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 case.

If the sister merely made a gift and this is a Chapter 7 case, there is probably no duty to report the gift. However, if this is a Chapter 13 case, in addition to the duty of reporting inheritance a person becomes entitled to within 180 days after the case is filed, a debtor also has a duty to report income received during the case, and a sizable gift from a sister is probably income that should be reported.

As a practical matter, it is best to report all sizable money receipts to the bankruptcy trustee while the case is open, regardless if a duty to report that receipt exists.  I once had a client who won a $500,000 lottery about 30 days after his Chapter 7 case was completed.  Was it inheritance? No. Was there a duty to report the winning? Probably not.  Still, we reported the winning and the trustee replied that the debtor should enjoy the money.  We all felt better since now we knew for certain that money was not owed to the bankruptcy court and my client could fully enjoy his winnings.

Bankruptcy Estate Includes Inheritance but not Payable on Death Benefits.

The 180-rule about inheritance only applies to property received by bequest, devise or inheritance.  Those three legal terms deal with gifts from a Will or Living Trust. But what about Payable on Death (POD) accounts?  If a debtor receives money as the beneficiary of a POD account within 180 days after filing bankruptcy, must that be turned over to the bankruptcy trustee?

The Northern District of Iowa bankruptcy court answered that question a few years ago in the negative.  A POD account beneficiary has not received a bequest, devise or inheritance.

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