Do I Need a Lawyer to File for Bankruptcy?
A client asked me recently whether he can file a bankruptcy on his own, or whether he would need a lawyer to assist him. The answer is that anyone can file papers on their own in court. That’s called a pro se or by yourself petition.
Bankruptcy petitions are very complicated
However, the petitions are very complicated. They normally run about 50 pages. We utilize a very good software program where we spend thousands of dollars to pay a company for this program that allows us to compile all the information.
Your name appears on most pages on the bankruptcy. Your Social Security number or four digits appear. A lot of questions are repeated numerous times. You have to list all your debts, the account numbers, the creditors, the company, their address, the amount you owe. And then there’s a list of questions you have to answer that’s called a statement of financial affairs.
The means test
Beyond that, you have to do what’s called a means test, where we look at your income and determine whether you qualify based on certain financial numeric formulas where your income is inputted based on the number of dependents and where you live.
And then, there are even more questions. You also have to take a class before you file bankruptcy, a debtor education class. And that certificate has to be filed with the court. Next, you have to go to court, but because of the COVID situation, it’s done virtually.
Your day in court
Normally, you appear in the courthouse. An attorney asks questions. That attorney is called the trustee and represents the creditors. You have to bring your Social Security card and your photo I.D. with your address to the meeting. And they ask a series of questions that you would need to answer.
After you complete the 341 hearing with the trustee, you have to take a second class and submit that debtor education class certificate to the court before the judge issues the discharge.
Why I don’t recommend filing a petition on your own
And, yes, you can file a petition on your own. But I do not recommend it. It’s a very lengthy process with a lot of paperwork. I would recommend having an attorney who’s experienced in bankruptcy court assist you in that process.
Do not hire a lawyer who’s never done a bankruptcy before, but hire someone who knows what they’re doing, has the latest software, obtains your credit report, imports or gets all the credit report information copied into the bankruptcy and is able to assist you in this process.
The consequences of making mistakes
Again, you can file on your own. I do not recommend it. It’s a very difficult, lengthy process. And if you make a mistake and the petition is filed incorrectly, it may be rejected. There’s also a court filing fee to file it. If it’s rejected, you’re not going to get the relief or the fresh start that you’re seeking.
And, if you answer credit questions incorrectly, there can be an implication that it’s a matter of fraud or perjury or that you made mistakes. So you really want to take your time and have it done properly. Bankruptcy is a federal proceeding, and it goes through federal court with a federal judge.
What you should do
So you really want to make sure you get it right. The goal of the bankruptcy is to get a fresh start, eliminate your debts and let you keep all the assets you can. And I strongly recommend to get a professional to assist you, not a paralegal, but a real lawyer who’s licensed to do that.
And the lawyer, of course, has to put their name on the petition and sign off on it. They are responsible for making sure everything is done accurately and correctly.
Good luck with your proceeding. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me. I’ll be happy to discuss and analyze your situation to see if you need my services and if I could be a good fit to assist you in this process.