Paying the mortgage in advance as prepetition exemption planning

I have asked bankruptcy attorneys many times over the years whether they think that it is okay to use non-exempt cash in the bank to prepay the mortgage before filing a petition.  It would only work of course if the mortgage payment created equity that was then exempt.  Every attorney I have ever asked has said something like, “Of course it’s okay.”  Some have looked at me strangely like “Why are you asking when the answer is obvious?”

I don’t see it as obvious.  It is a transfer to delay, hinder or defraud creditors.  “But it is exchanging non-exempt assets for exempt assets which is okay,” is the usual response.  The answer to that is “sort of.”

The BAP has recently affirmed Judge Robert Kwan in an unpublished opinion, In re Ellison, who denied this guy’s discharge based on a bunch of prepetition transfers, (“But it’s allowed exemption planning says the debtor’s atty.”)  The debtor paid six months worth of his first and second mortgages.  Why you ask?  The debtor’s words, “to assure that my wife and my daughter and myself had a home to live in through the end of the year . . . I did prepay [the mortgage in the past] but not to that degree, not six months, or four months, five months, whatever it was in advance, normally.”  According to Judge Kwan, “This out of the ordinary course transaction and Defendant’s admissions are additional evidence of his intent to hinder or delay his creditors by putting these funds out of their reach for his personal benefit.”   See In re Ellison, 2:15-ap-01001-RK.  Docket No. 30.

There were other transfers to be sure which had the effect of protecting about $250,000 of equity in the debtor’s home (after the homestead exemption).  Judge Kwan concluded that the debtor “crossed over the line’ of what is permissible behavior.  See In re Beverly, 374 B.R. at 244-246 (discussing the difficulty in drawing the line between legitimate bankruptcy planning and intent to hinder, delay or defraud creditors).”

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