For folks who aren't familiar with the ins and outs of Chapter 7 bankruptcy law, one of the more surprising figures they encounter is the trustee. It's wise to understand what the role of the trustee is and how they fit into the process.
A trustee's mandate is to see that the creditors get as much of what the petitioner owes to them as possible. This isn't quite the same as a responsibility to defend the creditors' interests because that is up to the creditors and whichever attorneys they might hire. Also, the trustee has to make decisions about equitably distributing the proceeds of bankruptcy sales to the various creditors. Consequently, the trustee sometimes has to balance competing interests.
Who Is the Trustee?
Normally, a trustee is drawn from a pool of professionals with experience in accounting or bankruptcy. They may be attorneys by trade, but Chapter 7 bankruptcy law doesn't require them to be.
Executing the Will of the Court
While the trustee must preserve as much value as possible for the creditors, their mandate does not mean they must go after the debtor at all costs. The assigned judge will rule on various matters, and it's the trustee's job to make sure the court's will is done.
Suppose you petition the court to hold onto your car because you need it for work. The trustee would assess the value of the car and decide whether you ought to keep the vehicle. They might also decide it would be beneficial to sell the vehicle and give you part of the money from the sale to purchase a more sensible car.
Saving the Court's Time
You may have noticed that the job of the trustee under Chapter 7 bankruptcy law is to save the judge's time for serious disputes. The trustee is empowered to make a number of judgment calls about which exemptions to allow.
For example, a trustee can decide whether an item is worth selling. If something appears to be high-value, they can hire an appraiser. A trustee is also responsible for setting up the method of sale, be it an auction, a sales notice, or a brokered sale.
If a petitioner has an objection, they can ask the judge to review the trustee's decision. However, be aware that the trustee is a court-appointed officer. Judges want to see compelling evidence before they override the judgments of trustees. Also, the court values its time. It's best to reserve complaints about trustees' decisions for egregious errors, fraud, or incompetence and not simple differences of opinion.