Chapter 7 Overview
Debtors usually file for bankruptcy under two common procedures: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. Chapter 7 is known as liquidation bankruptcy because the trustee assigned to your case seizes your nonexempt assets to liquidate. The proceeds are used to pay your creditors. Any remaining unpaid debts are discharged by the bankruptcy court, thus extinguishing your liability.
The trustee seizes your assets and places them into your bankruptcy estate, which represents your property eligible for liquidation. Once an asset is placed in the estate, it no longer belongs to you. It is under the ownership of the estate. The only way to protect your property, and keep it for yourself, is to claim an exemption for it. Exemptions are categories that protect your property from seizure up to a certain value; they are available under both state and federal laws. Some states allow you to choose between federal and state exemptions, while others require the use of state exemptions. The homestead exemption is a common exemption debtors use. For example, you can protect up to $24,060 of your home equity under the federal exemption or up to an unlimited amount if you live in Florida and use the state's exemption.
If you are unable to protect an asset with an exemption, you have no choice but to give it up to the bankruptcy estate. But there are two occasions when the bankruptcy trustee can choose to abandon an asset and release it from the bankruptcy estate. When the asset is too burdensome or too low in value to sell to benefit the estate, the trustee can ask the court for permission to abandon the property. Also, if an asset has not been liquidated despite the conclusion of the bankruptcy case and subsequent debt discharge, the asset is automatically abandoned.
Use of Abandoned Property
Once property is abandoned in a bankruptcy proceeding, it returns to the rightful owner. In most cases, this is the debtor. However, if the property was encumbered in some way, such as by a mortgage, it is returned to the party with the superior ownership interest. This can be a bank or other secured creditor. The party who receives the abandoned property is free to take the asset and do what he wants with it.