Stepping into the world of bankruptcy is like falling into the middle of a novel with no clue who the characters are or what what roles they play. Here’s a brief description of who the players are and what they do.
Debtor. The debtor is the person who is filing bankruptcy.
Creditors. These are the people or entities to whom the debtor owes money. It’s because of the creditors that the debtor is filing bankruptcy.
Trustee. This is the person who is appointed, or, in rare cases, elected by the creditors, to oversee the debtor’s case. The trustee’s job in either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 is to collect property of the debtor and make payments, called distributions, to creditors in partial payment of the debtor’s obligations. The trustee is not the judge and cannot make any legal rulings. Most of the debtor’s dealings in the bankruptcy will be with the trustee, through the debtor’s attorney.
Judge. The judge rarely gets involved in a Chapter 7 case except to enter routine orders, such as an order approving the trustee’s final report and the order of discharge. In Chapter 13 the judge either approves (confirms) or rejects (denies) the debtor’s plan. In either Chapter 13 or Chapter 7 the judge makes rulings on the law and finds facts in disputed matters.
United States Trustee. The United States Trustee, or her office, oversees all of the individual trustees. Debtors rarely have any dealings with the United States Trustee except in above median Chapter 7 cases where the US Trustee is required to double-check whether the debtor qualifies for Chapter 7.
Parties in Interest. A “party in interest” is anyone else who has an interest, generally a monetary interest, in the bankruptcy but who doesn’t fit into one of the other categories.
In most Chapter 7 and 13 cases, the big majority of the debtor’s dealings will be with the Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 trustee. One of the jobs of the debtor’s attorney, besides preparing all of the schedules and other supporting documents and attending the 341 meeting, is to interface with the trustee and any of these other parties. If you don’t have an attorney, it’s up to you to deal with them.