What is an "Asset" in Bankruptcy?

Bankruptcy law often refers to "assets and liabilities". This seems like a simple enough idea, and for the most part it is. However, what qualifies as an asset is much broader than what many people considering bankruptcy would believe.

The simplest definition of "asset" in bankruptcy is anything you own, or have the rights to, that has value (or potential value). This certainly includes your home, rental properties, cars, bank accounts, personal property, and cash. If you can sell it or transfer it, it is probably an asset.

However, the definition of asset goes far beyond these obvious examples. Assets also include contingent and unliquidated property. Contingent property is any property that becomes yours upon the occurrence of a certain condition, such as an inheritance (which becomes yours upon the condition of someone else dying). If you file a bankruptcy, and you are the heir to a deceased person whose estate is being administered, you must list your interest in the property you are to inherent. NOTE: You are not required to list property you stand to inherent if the person granting you the property is still alive. In a Chapter 7, however, you must inform the Court of any property inherited within 180 days of your discharge.

Unliquidated property is property for which the value or amount has not yet been determined. An example of unliquidated property would be a lawsuit in which your damages or award has not yet been determined. Once again, you will need to list this property as an asset.

Assets may also includes intangible property, such as intellectual property (patents, trademarks, copyrights) and franchises. A customer list used by a sales person could be an asset. A tax return, payment, or commission due to a debtor can also be considered an asset, even though the debtor does not yet possess it.

Clearly, the definition of an asset is very broad. All assets will be listed in Schedules A and B of your bankruptcy petition. Your attorney should closely review all of your assets, so they can be disclosed and exempted. If assets are hidden from the Bankruptcy Court, your case could be dismissed with prejudice. Perjury charges could even be filed.

If you have any doubt if something is an asset, disclose it to your attorney so he or she can determine if it must be disclosed to the Court.