What is a Trustee?

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What is a trustee? A trustee is a person who holds property, authority, or a position of trust or responsibility for the benefit of another. In the case of an “estate trustee” the trustee could be a company or an individual. An estate trustee in the case of an individual who dies or is incapacitated, represents the deceased or the incapacitated individual.

There are other types of trustees though in specific matters that have different responsibilities and are appointed by the government to administer an estate according to legislation.

What is a trustee in bankruptcy? In Canada, a trustee in bankruptcy is an individual or a corporation licensed by the Superintendent of Bankruptcy to hold in trust and, subsequently, to distribute bankrupt’s property among the creditors in accordance with the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act (BIA). The bankrupt and all other persons holding the bankrupt’s property must transfer the property to trustee until he or she can determined how the estate shall be administered. “Property” includes income and assets. The trustee may also assist individual in preparing and submitting a consumer proposal to creditors.

Where an “estate” trustee would act to carry out the intent of the deceased or in the best interest of the incapacitated individual, a “bankruptcy” trustee acts in the best interest of the bankrupts creditors and it is his or her obligation to recover as much money from the estate as possible for the benefit of the creditors.

In Canada, consumers and businesses often find themselves confused, pondering the question “what is a trustee?” and many get the impression that the trustee in bankruptcy represents their best interests. This is because so many trustees aggressively advertise to people who have financial problems. They do this because they aren’t profitable unless they have individuals and businesses approaching them to file for bankruptcy or to file consumer proposals. These advertisements often promote debt solutions, debt settlements and debt help. When you visit the trustee he or she will often only offer one of two choices: a bankruptcy or a consumer proposal. Inevitably the question is who does the “debt solution” benefit in the end?

In the case of a bankruptcy the trustee is paid a “tariff” a “fee” from the proceeds of the bankrupt estate. In the case of a consumer proposal the trustee receives remuneration based on a percentage of the amount of the consumer proposal that he or she negotiates.

When you visit the trustee he or she will require that you provide complete disclosure of your income and assets. If the trustee determines that a consumer proposal is the only legal remedy to your debt, he or she will then determine the amount of the consumer proposal based on your ability to make monthly payments over 4-5 years. For example, if you owe $20,000 and the trustee determines that you can afford to repay your creditors at 100 cents on the dollar, on a monthly basis over 5 years then the amount of the consumer proposal will be $20,000, 100% of the debt owed. If the bankruptcy trustee determined that you can only afford to repay $13,000 over 5 years then your consumer proposal would be 65% of the debt owed. The challenge is that the smaller the consumer proposal, the less remuneration to the trustee, which provides an incentive to the trustee to arrange larger proposals. In addition and as we mentioned earlier the trustee is required by law to secure the greatest amount of repayment possible for the benefit of your creditors.

It is for this reason that approaching a trustee directly to discuss your debt can be a risky proposition. In the past 5 years, this has spawned new industry: debt consulting. Debt consultants are familiar with the BIA and are able to evaluate your estate to help you determine which option is right for you and they can even negotiate on your behalf with bankruptcy trustees. 

This provides the insolvent person or debtor with a number of benefits.

1.Because the debt consultant is hired by the debtor, he or she represents the debtor`s best interests, not the creditors.

2.The debt consultant can interpret financial information and often negotiate a better deal than the consumer or business would have achieved had they visited the trustee directly.

3.The debt consultant can request evaluations of assets like homes and vehicles to ensure that the trustee does not over-estimate an asset resulting in you paying more in a consumer proposal or bankruptcy.

4.The debt consultant can work with you to come up with a financial plan to rebuild your credit and finances after a bankruptcy or a proposal.

 A bankruptcy or proposal offers many benefits and can provide a person who has a financial problem with immediate debt relief, including stopping collection action like a wage garnishment. Like anything else, researching a solution to a financial problem is truly “buyer beware” and if you are considering an avenue for debt relief like a bankruptcy or consumer proposal, we do not recommend that you do so unrepresented.

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