Your bankruptcy estate is entitled to the pre-filing portion of your tax refund.  The portion depends on when you file the petition.  Essentially, if you file in April 2009, the estate is entitled to 4/12ths of your tax refund, if you file in July 2009, the estate is entitled to 7/12ths and so on.  If you file in December 2009, your bankruptcy estate will be entitled to almost all of your tax refund (they actually figure it out by days – so if you file on December 10, the portion going to the estate would be around 344/365ths – essentially everything.  If you file in the year following the tax year at issue (i.e. in 2010), the bankruptcy estate is entitled to 100% of your tax refund.  Furthermore, if you file in February 2010, then your bankruptcy estate is technically entitled to 1/12th of your 2010 refund, though most cases filed this early in the year are closed by the time tax season rolls around again. 

 The only way to protect your refund is to wait with filing your bankruptcy petition until after you have filed your return AND received your refund.  The refund then has to be spent on exempt items, as on the day of filing you can have no more than $300 total. 

You should speak to an attorney if you are in fact expecting a refund, and want to file bankruptcy shortly thereafter – as there are strict restrictions on what you can do with the money.