Title 11 of the United States Code (the “Bankruptcy Code”) empowers bankruptcy trustees to compel entities to turn over property to the bankruptcy estate. Property subject to the turnover provision includes “all legal and equitable interests of the debtor in property at the commencement of the case.” Although the Bankruptcy Code is federal law, property interests are still defined by state law. Occasionally, bankruptcy trustees claim property as part of the estate that courts later deem is beyond the breadth of their authority.
This memorandum examines the extent of a bankruptcy trustee’s power to compel turnover of assets. Part I scrutinizes the statutory bases for the turnover power and analyzes the interaction of 11 U.S.C. § 542(a), § 541(a)(1), and § 541(a)(6). Part II highlights the inconsistencies among the circuit courts and the various standards the circuit courts have established.