How to File Bankruptcy Without an Attorney
First and foremost, filing bankruptcy without an attorney can be a daunting task. Furthermore, doing so without the legal knowledge necessary to properly prepare your case can lead to devastating financial losses including the loss of your property and even the denial of the discharge of your debts. It is, therefore, highly advised that you seek the advise and counsel of a Bankruptcy Lawyer to file your Bankruptcy Case on your behalf.
Documents Need to File for Bankruptcy
If you still insist on filing your own Bankruptcy case, you need to understand the documents that must be filed with the Court to commence the Bankruptcy process. These documents have been standardized and each case must be filed on the forms prescribed by the Bankruptcy Court. The documents include the following:
- The Petition
- Schedules A through J
- Statement of Financial Affairs
- Statement of Current Monthly Income / Disposable Income
- Verification of Creditor Matrix and Creditor Matrix
If you are filing Chapter 7, you will also need to file a Statement of Intent.
If you are filing Chapter 13, you won't need the Statement of Intent but you will need to file a Chapter 13 Plan.
In addition, each Bankruptcy Court is different and the Local Rules may require you to file additional forms in their jurisdiction. These forms are complex and it is always best to hire a Bankruptcy Attorney to file your case on your behalf.
The document which initiates your case is the Bankruptcy Petition. In the Petition, you provide your identifying information, select the Chapter of the Bankruptcy Code under which you you wish to file your case, provide a summary of your assets and liabilities and disclose any prior bankruptcy action to which you have been a party. Selecting the proper Chapter of the Bankruptcy Code can often be the single most important decision you make because your rights and the benefits your case offers will vary depending on the Chapter of the Bankruptcy Code under which you file. Again, you should hire a Bankruptcy Attorney to explain these matters to you.
The Schedules require you to disclose your financial assets, liabilities, income and expenses. Specifically, on Schedule A/B you must disclose all of your assets. On Schedule C, you must claim exemptions in your property. On Schedule D, you must disclose the creditors whose claims are secured by an interest in your property. On Schedule E/F, you must disclose all of your creditors who hold unsecured claims including priority claims and general unsecured claims. On Schedule G, you must disclose all unexpired executory contracts and unexpired leases to which you are a party. Finally, on Schedules I & J you must disclose your income and expenses.
It is impossible to explain the importance of drafting your Schedules accurately and properly disclosing the information requested in them. For example, if you fail to list a debt, that claim could become non-dischargeable in whole or in part. If you fail to disclose assets or fail to properly claim an exemption, you could lose your property or be found to have committed Bankruptcy Fraud which is a crime. In the final analysis, you will be well served by spending the money to hire a Bankruptcy Attorney to represent you.
Statement of Financial Affairs
The Statement of Financial Affairs requires you to answer a set of questions setting forth your financial dealings. For example, you are required to disclose each address at which you have lived for the preceding three years. You must also disclose payments you have made to ordinary creditors within the last 90 days and to insiders, including family members, within the last 12 months. The amount of information requested in the Statement of Financial Affairs is voluminous and your answers must be accurate. Again, your failure to properly draft the document or properly disclose the information requested could lead to devastating consequences. You should hire a Bankruptcy Attorney to represent you.
Statement of Currently Monthly Income / Disposable Income
The Statement of Currently Monthly Income / Disposable Income requires you to disclose all of your income for the six month period preceding the date on which you file your Bankruptcy Petition, starting on the last day of the month preceding the month in which your case is filed. For example, if you file your case in November of 2017, the Statement of Current Monthly Income will require you to set forth all of your income between May 1, 2017 and October 31, 2017. Properly drafting this document will determine if you qualify for Chapter 7 or how much, if any, you will have to pay back to your unsecured creditors in a Chapter 13 case. Again, the consequence of failing to properly draft this document are high and you should entrust the matter to a Bankruptcy Attorney.
Creditor Matrix and Verification of the Creditor Matrix
The Verification of the Creditor Matrix is a document you execute stating you have listed all of your Creditors. The Creditor Matrix, on which your creditors are listed, is attached to the Verification. Make certain you have listed all of your Creditors when you file your case. Otherwise, you may be forced to amend your Schedules or, in some circumstances, your debts may not be discharged. It goes without saying, you should hire a Bankruptcy Lawyer to represent you.
Filing and First Meeting of Creditors
Once you have completed your pleadings, the documents must be filed in the office of the Clerk of the Bankruptcy Court. Shortly thereafter, a Trustee will be assigned to your Case and a Hearing in front of the Trustee will be scheduled. This Hearing is called the "First Meeting of Creditors" and is usually conducted within about 30 days after your case is filed.
At the First Meeting of Creditors, you will be required to appear before the Trustee and answer questions regarding your assets, liabilities, income, expenses and financial affairs. You will also be required to produce certain documents such as deeds to your real property, titles to your vehicles, bank statements, tax returns and other documents evidencing your financial assets, liabilities and affairs. It is imperative you answer these questions honestly and provide all of the requested documentation at the hearing. Failure to do so could lead to the dismissal of your case, a denial of the discharge of your debts and, if you conceal financial information, you could be charged with Bankruptcy Fraud. Please hire a Bankruptcy Attorney to represent you.
Challenges to Your Bankruptcy Case
If you successfully navigate all of these hurdles, you may still face a lawsuit, called an "Adversary Proceeding," in which one or more of your Creditors object to the debt you owe them being discharged. Furthermore, the Trustee could object to your case on the grounds it was filed in bad faith, you do not qualify for bankruptcy or a myriad of other possible complaints that frequently arise in bankruptcy cases. In a Chapter 7, assuming you get though all of these additional obstacles, the Court will enter a discharge order not less than 60 days after the date on which your First Meeting of Creditors is concluded. In a Chapter 13, after the First Meeting of Creditors, the Trustee will make a recommendation to the Court to either Confirm you Chapter 13 Plan or deny Confirmation.
At the end of the day, it is always better to be represented by a Bankruptcy Attorney. Before you decide to go it alone, call Greg and arrange a Free Consultation. The risk of financial loss isn't worth the small cost of being represented by Bankruptcy Lawyer.
I look forward to helping you,