Knowledgeable & Realistic Answers CONTACT US TODAY
Frustrated Couples looking at financial documents

Joint Accounts and Bankruptcy 

EH Law Group May 28, 2024

A joint bank account is an account shared by two or more individuals, typically used by couples, business partners, or family members. Both parties have access to the funds in the account and can make deposits or withdrawals independently. While joint accounts offer convenience and shared financial management, they also come with complexities, especially when one party faces financial difficulties or decides to file for bankruptcy. 

If you're considering filing for bankruptcy, understanding the implications for joint accounts is essential. The prospect of bankruptcy can be overwhelming, but with the right guidance, it can also be a strategic step toward financial freedom.  

At EH Law Group, we bring decades of experience to help you through this challenging process with empathy and precision. We are here to ensure you are informed and supported every step of the way. 

How Bankruptcy Affects Joint Accounts

When you file for bankruptcy, the impact on your joint accounts depends on several factors, including the type of bankruptcy filed and the relationship between the account holders. Here’s a closer look: 

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy 

In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, also known as liquidation bankruptcy, non-exempt assets are sold to repay creditors. Joint accounts may be considered part of these assets, and your share of the funds could be at risk. However, the bankruptcy trustee will only have access to your portion of the account, not your co-holder’s share. 

Chapter 13 Bankruptcy 

Chapter 13 bankruptcy involves restructuring your debts and creating a repayment plan over three to five years. With a Chapter 13 filing, you generally retain more control over your assets, including joint accounts. However, it’s essential to maintain transparency and include all assets in your bankruptcy filings to avoid legal complications. 

Options and Strategies for Protecting Joint Accounts

Protecting your joint accounts during bankruptcy requires strategic planning and thorough understanding of bankruptcy laws. Here are some options and strategies: 

Separate Your Finances 

Before filing for bankruptcy, it's wise to separate your finances from your co-holder. This means opening individual accounts and transferring your share of the joint account funds into your own name. This strategy can help protect the co-holder's portion of the funds from being included in the bankruptcy estate. 

Understand Exemptions 

Bankruptcy exemptions allow you to protect certain assets from being liquidated in Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Understanding these exemptions and how they apply to joint accounts can help you protect your funds. California offers specific exemptions under state law, so consulting with an experienced bankruptcy attorney can provide clarity and direction. 

Maintain Detailed Records 

Keep thorough records of all transactions related to your joint accounts. This documentation can prove invaluable in demonstrating which portion of the funds belongs to you and which belongs to the co-holder, helping to safeguard their share. 

Considerations for Couples

For couples, filing for bankruptcy requires careful consideration and open communication. Here’s some advice for approaching this topic: 

Assess Your Financial Situation Together 

Evaluate your joint financial situation and determine the best course of action for both parties. Sometimes, filing jointly can be more beneficial, allowing you to discharge shared debts and protect joint assets more effectively. 

Communicate Openly 

Transparency is key. Discuss your financial challenges and goals openly with your partner. Understanding each other’s perspectives can help you make informed decisions that benefit both parties. 

Seek Professional Guidance 

Consulting with a knowledgeable bankruptcy attorney is wise. An attorney can provide personalized advice based on your unique circumstances, helping you protect your assets and achieve the best possible outcome. 

Examples of Joint Accounts in Bankruptcy

Example scenarios can offer valuable insights into how bankruptcy affects joint accounts. Here are a few: 

Scenario 1: Married Couple With Joint Checking Account 

John and Jane, a married couple, share a joint checking account. John decides to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. By separating their finances beforehand and keeping detailed records, they demonstrate that half of the funds belong to Jane and are therefore protected from the bankruptcy estate. 

Scenario 2: Business Partners With Joint Savings Account 

Business partners Mike and Sarah have a joint savings account for their business. Mike files for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. By including the joint account in his repayment plan and maintaining transparency, they ensure that their business operations remain unaffected while addressing Mike’s personal financial challenges. 

Scenario 3: Parent and Adult Child With Joint Account 

Susan, a parent, shares a joint account with her adult child, Emily. When Emily faces financial difficulties and considers bankruptcy, they consult with an attorney who advises them to separate their finances. This proactive step helps protect Susan's funds from being included in Emily’s bankruptcy estate. 

Reach Out to Our Team for Assistance

Filing for bankruptcy is a significant decision that requires careful consideration, especially when joint accounts are involved. By understanding the legal and financial implications, protecting your assets, and seeking professional guidance, you can navigate this process with confidence. 

If you’re considering bankruptcy and concerned about the impact on your joint accounts, don’t try to figure it out alone. Reach out to EH Law Group today to schedule a consultation. Let us help you understand your options and guide you toward a brighter financial future.  

With over 30 years of combined experience, our attorneys, Eddy Hsu and Grace Ho, bring expertise, empathy, and individualized attention to each case. We serve clients throughout San Mateo, San Francisco, Santa Clara County, Oakland, Daly City, and South San Francisco.