Over my many, many years of helping people through the bankruptcy filing process, I’ve seen how difficult it is, and at the same time how very important it is, for clients to maintain a positive outlook. In my earlier bankruptcy blog, Money And Emotion Mixed In Bankruptcy, I talked about some neurologists’ findings about how emotion can inhibit or help in wise decision making, and about how important it is for people facing bankruptcy to deal directly with their negative emotions rather than suppressing them. But, although I’ve dealt with tens of thousands of situations, I’ve never come across a bankruptcy case like country star Willie Nelson’s. Willie not only composed an entire album of songs expressing his emotions about his giant tax debt, but that album actually became part of his bankruptcy repayment plan!
Back in the early 1900’s, Willie Nelson was forced into bankruptcy because the IRS was suing him for $16.7 million in back taxes. Tax agents, without warning, had seized Nelson’s bank accounts and padlocked all the properties he owned in six states. Meanwhile, a Florida leasing company was repossessing all his tour buses. The most embarrassing part was when agents broke into Nelson’s music studio and evicted the members of his band right in the middle of their rehearsing a song.
Willie’s many friends and fans tried to help, even starting a “Where There’s A Willie, There’s A Way” fund. When the IRS was auctioning off Willie’s possessions (I talked about auctions in Bankruptcy Auctions Scheduled For ATA And Premier Properties), friends would buy property at the auction and then give that property back to Willie as a gift. Getting out of debt was a long process, but the repayment plan was eventually completed. And a big part of the repayment came from the proceeds of a special CD song album Willie created, called “The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories?”. When it was all over, WIllie Nelson was able to go back to traveling and making music, emerging from the bankruptcy to rebuild his life and continue.his career. As longtime associate Kinky Friedman described Willie Nelson’s long and complex bankruptcy case, “He did it the cowboy way.”
As a bankruptcy attorney in Indiana (where we have so many country music fans), I hope Willie Nelson’s story of personal courage will prove inspiring to people who may be at the beginning stages of filing bankruptcy. Even if they are not feeling very much like singing, Willie’s songs about his own bankruptcy struggles may give my clients a sense of better times to come.