Bankruptcy and Inheritance: Inherited Assets, Bankruptcy Estate

This guide explores the complex relationship between bankruptcy and inheritance, detailing how inherited assets are treated during bankruptcy, relevant laws, and practical strategies for managing these assets.


Bankruptcy and inheritance are two complex areas of law that often intersect in intricate ways. When an individual files for bankruptcy, their assets are scrutinized and potentially liquidated to pay off creditors. However, what happens when that individual inherits assets during or after the bankruptcy process? This guide aims to provide a comprehensive overview of how inherited assets are treated in the context of bankruptcy, focusing on the bankruptcy estate, relevant laws, and practical considerations.

Bankruptcy Basics

Definition and Types of Bankruptcy

Bankruptcy is a legal process that allows individuals or entities to seek relief from debts they cannot repay. The most common types of bankruptcy for individuals are Chapter 7 and Chapter 13.

  • Chapter 7 Bankruptcy: Also known as liquidation bankruptcy, involves the sale of a debtor's non-exempt assets to pay off creditors. After the liquidation, most remaining debts are discharged.
  • Chapter 13 Bankruptcy: Also known as reorganization bankruptcy, allows debtors to keep their assets but requires them to follow a court-approved repayment plan over three to five years.

The Bankruptcy Estate

When an individual files for bankruptcy, a bankruptcy estate is created. This estate includes all legal or equitable interests of the debtor in property at the time of the bankruptcy filing. The estate is managed by a trustee, who is responsible for liquidating non-exempt assets and distributing the proceeds to creditors.

Relevant Laws and Resources

Inheritance and Bankruptcy

Timing of Inheritance

The timing of when an inheritance is received can significantly impact its treatment in bankruptcy. The key periods to consider are:

  • Before Filing for Bankruptcy: Any inheritance received before filing for bankruptcy becomes part of the bankruptcy estate and is subject to liquidation or repayment plans.
  • After Filing but Within 180 Days: Under 11 U.S.C. § 541(a)(5), any inheritance received within 180 days of filing for bankruptcy is included in the bankruptcy estate.
  • After 180 Days: Inheritances received more than 180 days after filing are generally not included in the bankruptcy estate.

11 U.S.C. § 541(a)(5)

This section of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code specifies that any interest in property acquired by the debtor within 180 days after the filing of the bankruptcy petition, including by bequest, devise, or inheritance, becomes part of the bankruptcy estate.

Case Law

  • In re Chenoweth: This case illustrates the application of 11 U.S.C. § 541(a)(5), where the court ruled that an inheritance received within 180 days of filing must be included in the bankruptcy estate.
  • In re Crandall: The court held that an inheritance received after 180 days is not part of the bankruptcy estate, providing clarity on the timing issue.

Practical Considerations

Disclosure Requirements

Debtors are required to disclose any expected inheritance in their bankruptcy filings. Failure to do so can result in penalties, including the dismissal of the bankruptcy case or denial of discharge.


Certain states allow exemptions for inherited assets, meaning that some or all of the inherited property may be protected from liquidation. These exemptions vary by state and can include homestead exemptions, personal property exemptions, and wildcard exemptions.

Managing Inherited Assets in Bankruptcy

Role of the Trustee

The bankruptcy trustee plays a crucial role in managing inherited assets. The trustee's responsibilities include:

  • Identifying Inherited Assets: The trustee will review the debtor's disclosures and any updates to identify inherited assets.
  • Valuing Assets: The trustee will appraise the inherited assets to determine their value.
  • Liquidating Non-Exempt Assets: If the inherited assets are non-exempt, the trustee will liquidate them to pay off creditors.

Strategies for Debtors

Pre-Bankruptcy Planning

Debtors anticipating an inheritance should consider pre-bankruptcy planning to protect their assets. This may include:

  • Timing the Bankruptcy Filing: Delaying the bankruptcy filing until after the 180-day period can help protect the inheritance.
  • Utilizing Exemptions: Maximizing the use of state exemptions to protect inherited assets.

Post-Bankruptcy Considerations

If an inheritance is received after the bankruptcy filing, debtors should:

  • Notify the Trustee: Promptly inform the trustee of the inheritance.
  • Review Exemptions: Determine if any part of the inheritance can be exempted under state law.

Special Considerations

Joint Inheritance

When an inheritance is received jointly with another individual, only the debtor's share is included in the bankruptcy estate. The trustee will assess the debtor's interest and liquidate only that portion.

Trusts and Estates

Inherited assets held in a trust may be treated differently depending on the terms of the trust and state law. Trusts can sometimes provide protection from creditors, but this varies widely.

Tax Implications

Inherited assets can have tax implications, including estate taxes and income taxes on distributions. Debtors should consult with a tax professional to understand these implications.


Navigating the intersection of bankruptcy and inheritance requires a thorough understanding of both areas of law. By understanding the relevant legal framework, timing considerations, and practical strategies, debtors can better manage inherited assets during the bankruptcy process. Always consult with a qualified attorney to ensure compliance with all legal requirements and to protect your interests.


This guide aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the complex relationship between bankruptcy and inheritance. For specific legal advice, always consult with a qualified attorney.

About the author
Von Wooding, Esq.

Von Wooding, Esq.

Lawyer and Founder

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