What is a Citation to Discover Assets? How Creditors Legally Find and Seize Your Money and Property: What You Should Do Next

What is a Citation to Discover Assets? How Creditors Legally Find and Seize Your Money and Property: What You Should Do Next

The most painful part of going to court with a creditor is not the court experience itself. The most painful, embarrassing and even devastating part is having the creditor win a judgment against you. If you owe money, chances are very good your creditor will win a judgment against you in court.

Creditors seeking payment of debts are pros at what they do. What they do is search out, find, and seize any assets you have.They do this by filing a document with the court called a Citation to Discover Assets that allows them to find and seize anything of value you have .They like doing this. They’re good at it, and they do it every day. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not personal to them. It’s professional. They take pride in what they do because it’s their business.

Creditors know you’re not likely to pay off the judgment because if you could, you would have already paid them. Understand this, you’re not a bad person. You just got in a bad financial situation because of health, other bills, a death in the family, not-so-great decisions, covid, or being laid off, underemployed or a variety of reasons.

However, no matter what your reason is, it doesn’t matter to your creditors. They may feel your pain and loss, but they still have a job to do — collect payment owed. It also doesn’t matter if you just don’t think you owe that amount. If the court awards your creditor(s) a judgment they’ve just decided you do owe what your creditor claims you do. When a judgment is awarded to your creditor, the judge has just given them the right to go after whatever assets you own — including the ones you think you’ve hidden well — to get the money you owe them. Depending on how much you owe and how many assets you have, they will most likely succeed.

They will find your assets using a legal document called “A Citation to Discover Assets.”

What is A Citation to Discover Assets?

A Citation to Discover Assets is a legal term that simply describes a court document. This document requires the debtor, that’s probably you or someone you know/love, to come to court and answer questions about their property, income, and other things of value they may own. That can be really scary to think about and experience — you may be losing your house, car, or other assets and you’ll have no say over what they seize and sell.

Fear and anxiety around this process often causes people to lie or hide information about their assets to protect themselves. It’s human nature. But, you can’t lie about your assets at this meeting. The court expects you to reveal information about your assets, and to be honest about it. If you think you can hide assets, you’re wrong.

The court and your creditors know all the tricks people use to hide their assets, like transferring a car or home title to their family to avoid naming it as an asset. They also know that people will squirrel away their valuables in a storage unit, or a friend’s garage, or hide things out of state, then lie about it. The courts really frown on this behavior.  In fact, lying about your assets, or attempting to hide them can make your legal issues worse. When you’ve dug a financial or legal hole for yourself, the first step to getting out of it is to stop digging. It’s a miserable feeling to realize your prized assets may be seized and sold, but it must be done if you want to be free of your creditors.

It’s painful, but once your assets are revealed, the judgment creditor can try to get that property or income to pay the judgment if it is not protected by law.

What is An Asset?

Anything you own that has value and can be sold is considered an asset — even a prized pet. In Illinois and other states, pets are considered property — just like a couch, car, coin collection, or house. If you breed dogs, they can be considered a “business asset” and seized. Unless you have a particularly valuable pet they’re not likely to be seized, but it’s good to be aware it’s possible.

Other things considered assets are: your house, any cars you own — even junkers or project cars, your 401K, checking or savings account, stocks, income, jewelry, tools, boats, fishing rods, sports equipment, ATVs, bikes, motorcycles and wages, etc.. In other words, anything physical or intangible that you own can be sold or used to generate cash is an asset. If it’s something you’ve tried to sell yourself to make money, chances are good creditors will consider it an asset.

Outside of hiding my assets, is there a way I can avoid having creditors seize my assets?

Yes, I’m happy to say. There are ways you can legally avoid having your assets seized and sold. Unfortunately, these are almost as painful options as having your things seized, but they are options:

  • Pay Your Creditor What You Owe Them.

Pay your creditor what you owe them. Borrow the money from somewhere or someone (friends, family etc.), or sell the things you can to make the money to pay the creditor the amount you owe them. Creditors are NOT after your things. They’re after the money you owe them and selling your things is how they get their money. By selling your things yourself you have the chance to decide what to sell — something you don’t get to do if your assets are seized. You’re also likely to get more money for what you sell than your creditors will — meaning you won’t lose as many things.

Once you’ve paid a creditor what you owe them, make sure they sign a Satisfaction and Release of Judgment form.  Make a copy of that document for your files, then file the original form at your County Court Clerk’s office. This tells anyone with an interest in your debt that you have paid the judgment in full.

If the creditor doesn’t sign the form or refuses to sign the form, you can file a motion asking the judge to sign the release.  The Court Clerk’s office will explain how to fill out that form and what steps to take next. If you can’t pay what you owe, the other option is to negotiate with them.

  • Negotiate an Installment Plan.

Even if you can’t afford to pay your creditor what you owe, the court won’t accept that as an excuse. If they award a judgment, you must still pay off the creditor. Most are willing to set up an installment plan with you — even if it means paying only $25 a month. They want something coming in regularly. If they get it consistently, they’ll generally not go after your assets unless you miss a payment or two.

Set up an installment plan in person, on paper — not verbally outside the courtroom after the judgment, or over the telephone. Don’t just agree to any figure they offer, or you think “is fair.” Sit down and figure out how much you can afford to pay. This means looking at (or creating) a budget. No matter how small the amount, figure out what would and would not be an extreme hardship for you to pay consistently. If you can’t afford the installment plan terms you’re not going to pay it consistently. Then you’ll be facing asset seizures again. Maybe you can only afford $25 a month, but the creditor wants $100. If $100 a month or $50 a month would strain your resources, it’s important you know this when you agree to terms.

You don’t have to submit a legal, fancy, attorney-written proposal of an installment plan; but it should include dates, names, the time, and the terms of the agreement between you and the creditor. Getting the creditor to agree to an installment plan will save you time, effort, and stress and your assets. It will also keep them from starting a wage garnishment proceeding against you. Yes, debt can get worse if creditors start garnishing (seizing) a percentage of your wages/income before you even see it. Garnishment can also throw you into even greater financial issues. Make sure your creditors sign the agreement. Keep a copy of the signed and dated agreement for yourself as well in case they claim different terms down the road. In fact, keep copies of all correspondence (including email and texts) with your creditors.

What if my creditor doesn’t agree to my installment plan?

Your creditor doesn’t have the last say on accepting your plan or not. That’s one of the good things about the law and courts in financial matters. Creditors know this and are more likely to agree to a reasonable plan than fight it. That’s because they know if they don’t agree to your plan, you can file a motion asking the judge to approve it.  If the judge approves your plan, he may stop all other collection efforts against you while you make the payments. 

There are some conditions. A court-ordered payment plan generally must be paid off within three years. This works for smaller debts, but rarely something like a $100,000 medical bill. If your installment plan is approved by the creditor without going to court, your repayment plan may be longer.

Can I miss payments?

Some creditors will understand your missing a payment due to a one-time, unexpected event like Covid, layoffs, or accidents that severely and temporarily impact your ability to pay, but many will not. No matter what you agree upon in your installment plan, do your best to honor it and to stay in communication with the creditor if you can’t. Even though your installment plan may be handwritten or a simple one page agreement with your creditor, the courts take the agreement itself very seriously. Don’t propose an installment plan unless you’re sure you can make the payments on time. Most creditors are willing to be a little flexible if you have legitimate issues that delay payment, but they still expect to be paid.

(3.) You can also file for bankruptcy.

While many people consider filing for bankruptcy a last ditch attempt to get out from under crushing debt, it is certainly an option for millions of people every day. There are several ways to structure bankruptcies and you do have options that will ensure you can pay the creditors you want to pay, and still save many of your assets. No article can tell you what you need to know about your specific situation, so it’s good to find a bankruptcy attorney who can answer your questions and lay out your options for you. Don’t be afraid to investigate all these alternatives to solving your financial debt. You’ll feel better when you have a solution and a plan.


Richard Fonfrias, J.D.

Chicago’s Financial Rescue

& Bankruptcy Lawyer

Fonfrias Law Group, LLC

If You Have Questions About Citations, or Other Legal Matters, Don’t Hesitate to Call 1 (312) 969-0730