In a story I read about the super-rich in U.S. News And World Report, the writer points out the differences between being rich today and being rich a thousand years ago. Back then, the article explains, “.being rich involved very little money per se. A person’s wealth was calculated in land, slaves, chunks of gold, and jewels. Today, by contrast, wealth is almost always expressed in terms of money.” It’s true, I realized. We refer to rich folks as millionaires and to the very rich as billionaires, meaning how many dollars’ worth of assets they have.
To me as a bankruptcy attorney in Indiana who deals every day with lists of assets and with dollars owed, the most fascinating part of the article was about how, nowadays, if you’re a millionaire, “you could be anybody.” You might be a CEO of a corporation on the verge of bankruptcy. Or, you might be a professional athlete or rock star. You might have inherited your money, or won it in a lottery or on a TV game show. Since there are more than four million millionaires in the United States, they represent a variety of paths to wealth.
I couldn’t help thinking that, at the opposite end of the money spectrum, it’s the same situation, but in reverse. Bankruptcy filers might be people who consistently lived beyond their means and never “saved for a rainy day,” But filers might just as well be families who were very careful with their money and then were hit with tremendous medical costs, perhaps in combination with a job loss that meant health coverage was lost. The person filing bankruptcy might be a brave, hardworking entrepreneur whose small business just couldn’t withstand all the negative forces in our economy right now, or a business owner who just didn’t have the wherewithal to defend against a frivolous extended lawsuit. Or, it might be the owner of a business hit with a fire or storm damage or flooding. It could be someone who never finished high school and who couldn’t compete in today’s job market. It might be a person with an alcohol or drug problem. Then again, the bankruptcy filer could be someone who inherited a fortune and then blew it all.
In close to twenty five years of guiding my Indiana bankruptcy clients through the legal process of bankruptcy, I’ve seen all these situations. I think sometimes that, as long as there are people, there will be some who achieve super-rich status and others who find themselves turning to the bankruptcy court system for help. Truly – it could be anybody!