It is quite a bit of work for both the client and our office to make sure we have all the proper documentation to analyze your case and prepare the bankruptcy petition. The bankruptcy petition is not a “simple” or “basic” form. Clients are surprised to learn that the petition is between 50-60 pages. It has to be filled out accurately and completely.
There is a burden on both you as the client, as well as myself, as the attorney to do our due diligence to make sure we do not miss any information. We need six months of payroll, or if self-employed, you would need to provide six months of profit and loss statements by month; two years of income tax returns; two years of corporate returns if you own a business; vehicle titles and/or car registrations; identification, three months minimum of all bank statements for every account, including retirement accounts such as IRAs, ESOP plans, FRS plans if working for the government.
If you are on social security we need the social security benefits letter confirming your monthly payment. The same is true for pensions, annuities, or veterans benefits to confirm the amount of your monthly payment. Additional information that we may need to review are: a martial settlement agreement if you have been divorced within the last two years, payoff statements for your mortgage and vehicles, paperwork for any lawsuits, deeds to any real property, trust documents, HUD or bill of sale for any home or vehicle sales or trade ins for the last two years.
We also need information regarding the value of all of your assets and we go through questions also to make sure you are an eligible bankruptcy candidate. That is why people hire an attorney. It can definitely be a daunting task without help. There are many aspects of analysis to evaluate if you have non-exempt property, is there anything the trustee could make you pay back such as insider payments to family members, or friends. Having legal guidance will prove to be valuable and make the process go much more smoothly.
There are occasions where I get phone calls from potential clients where either a bank account has been “frozen” or money has been seized by a creditor out of their account or their wages have been garnished out of their paycheck.
This can lead to a very dire situation if you are living paycheck to paycheck and money that you are counting on to buy groceries or pay rent is now gone. When that occurs, our first step is to analyze whether the creditor appropriately garnished your wages or bank account. For example, if the source of the money in your bank account is social security funds, those funds would be exempt from garnishment.
If that is the case, you might be able to file a claim of exemption in the underlying case to see if the judge would reverse the garnishment order and “unfreeze” those funds.
Filing for bankruptcy will immediately stop any collection efforts in the future. If the creditor was entitled to the garnished funds, they are not required to retroactively reimburse you for those funds that were taken before you filed your bankruptcy case. If the creditor garnishes anything after you file your bankruptcy case, you would be entitled to get those funds reimbursed.
Whenever you get served with a lawsuit, it is important to speak with an attorney as soon as possible to determine if you do have any exemptions to the garnishment and to discuss the best timing for filing your bankruptcy case. That way the situation can be handled to ensure that you prevent a garnishment.
A “conversion” is when you change the bankruptcy chapter type after you file your original bankruptcy petition. For example, at the time you file your case, you are over the median threshold to file for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, so you file a Chapter 13 case. Months or even years later, your income declines and you now meet the income threshold to file a Chapter 7. In that situation, you can convert your Chapter 13 case to a Chapter 7 case. It’s a moving target so if your situation changes, there are solutions to change your situation so you are not stuck staying in a Chapter 13 or being forced to have your case dismissed if you can no longer afford the Chapter 13 payment.
Its uncommon to convert a Chapter 7 case to a Chapter 13 . That would be a rare instance if the trustee believes you did not file your Chapter 7 case in “good faith”. In order words, if the trustee’s office believes you have ability to repay your creditors by not reporting your income or expenses correctly. If you cannot pay the amount of your non-exempt assets in a Chapter 7, then you might need to convert to a Chapter 13 to have extended time to pay the trustee. That is why it is so important to have an attorney prepare your bankruptcy petition to ensure you don’t have an unexpected issue about not qualifying for the Chapter type your filing.
When you file a bankruptcy case, there is a hearing called a “341 meeting of creditors”.
The meeting of creditors takes place whether you file a Chapter 7 or a Chapter 13. It occurs thirty days after your bankruptcy petition is filed. The meeting lasts about 10 minutes, and it is telephonic not over zoom.
There is a conference bridge so when you call in, everyone (you, your attorney, and the trustee) will be on the phone line. You will be prepared for the hearing because we thoroughly review all the documents the trustee will ask you about when we prepare the petition. Since everything is disclosed on the bankruptcy petition and your documents are provided to the trustee in advance of the meeting, your attendance at the hearing should really be a formality to getting your discharge.
If there is anything special about your case, such as being over the exemption amount you would know that in advance of filing your case so there should be no surprises. Many people ask if all their creditors show up for the meeting. It’s a bit misleading that it’s’ called a meeting of creditors because it is extremely rare that any creditors appear for the meeting.
Creditors appear in probably in less than 1% of cases. There would likely have to be a special issue such as a lender asking where the debtor’s car might be located if they are surrendering it or a creditor that the debtor personally knows. Typically, the meetings run very smoothly and on time.
This issue comes up frequently when the person who files for bankruptcy (otherwise known as the debtor) is on the title to a vehicle that someone else drives and makes the payments on.
This happens oftentimes when a parent keeps the vehicle in titled in their name instead of their child’s name but the child drives it. It also happens when the debtor puts the vehicle and loan in their name for a family member who does not have good credit. If there is equity in the vehicle (the value of the vehicle exceeds what you own on it) and that amount is over the allowed bankruptcy exemptions you would need to pay the trustee the difference.
However, if you have not paid anything towards the vehicle or any gas or paid for any maintenance then there is an exception you might qualify for called bare legal title which allows you not to have to pay anything to the trustee under those circumstances.
You may have to provide proof that the other person has been the one making the payments. Bare legal title applies to personal property and cars. However, you cannot have bare legal title to real property.
If you are on the deed of any real estate, whether you live there or not, or whether you have paid for it or not, that cannot be considered bare legal title. At that point, we would need to evaluate if the property can be exempt as your homestead or not.