Bankruptcy is an involved process in Canada, and though you don’t lose literally everything at the time of declaring it, it can take months of dealing with a bankruptcy trustee, selling things off, and living on the bare minimum to be in the clear and get that fresh start. If you are considering bankruptcy, there are a few things you should bear in mind before signing everything over to cover your debts.
Do Your Research First
Before going straight into bankruptcy, read about your options and learn what bankruptcy would actually entail for you in your area.
Bankruptcy involves signing over your assets in trust to a trustee in bankruptcy or a lawyer, who will help you to value them and then will sell them to pay off your debts. Generally, you will get to keep very few things such as a limited amount of clothing and your wedding rings, but maybe not your car if it’s worth more than a certain amount; it all depends on your province. See what provincial exemptions there are in your province.
Industry Canada’s Superintendent of Bankruptcy sets “Superintendent’s Standards” for how much income a person can live on and how much should be put toward paying off debts in bankruptcy. The Standards for 2014 can be seen on Industry Canada’s website; these are updated annually.
You can speak to a trustee or lawyer before declaring bankruptcy to make sure it is what you want to do before you actually do it. It is also wise to find out how it will affect your spouse or children and how much you will have to live on while going through the process.
For a first-time bankrupt, bankruptcy can mean nine months between declaring bankruptcy and getting out of it, and that can feel like a very long time.
Don’t Ditch Assets to Try to Hide Them
If you are considering bankruptcy, don’t think that putting the house in your spouse’s name will help you. Sometimes, a bankrupt person will have “gifted” something, such as a vehicle, to someone, such as a child, before declaring bankruptcy, thinking that will mean he or she won’t actually have to give up the asset fully. However, if the asset was given away for less than fair market value within a certain amount of time before bankruptcy is declared, creditors can actually go after it and sue to get it back from the child, to sell and cover the debtor’s debts.
A Proposal to Creditors
Sometimes, all it takes to clear off your debt is a proposal to creditors. Essentially, a proposal is just that; you ask creditors if they are willing to work out a payment plan with you so that they will get paid, just not all at once, for example. This can be done informally or formally, with help from a trustee or lawyer.
Sometimes, creditors are willing to work with you, because they know that if you declare bankruptcy, it could become even more complicated for them. A proposal may mean they’ll make their money back, perhaps on a payment schedule instead of in a lump sum.
Talk to a Trustee in Bankruptcy, or a Bankruptcy Lawyer
To work out a proposal to creditors or to declare bankruptcy, you will need to see a trustee in bankruptcy or a bankruptcy lawyer (keep in mind that not all lawyers deal with bankruptcy often, so ask around). He or she can advise you on the steps to take, whichever direction you choose.
For more information on creating a proposal to creditors or the steps into and out of bankruptcy, see the recently released Consumer Bankruptcy: A Practical Guide for Canadians, a book by lawyer Frank Bennett. It explains consumer proposals and bankruptcy in detail, and is a good read before you make any drastic decisions, or while you are going through bankruptcy proceedings.