What Do I Need to Bring to Bankruptcy Court?

The vast majority of bankruptcy petitioners have never had previous cause to set foot in a courtroom, and the experience of discussing one’s debt with an unknown official in a federal court is extremely stressful for those involved.  If your bankruptcy hearing is causing you anxiety, take a tip from boy scouts and girl scouts everywhere: be prepared.  When you’re prepared and know what to expect from bankruptcy court, you will be more relaxed and confident.  The key to achieving an affordable bankruptcy is to recognize that bankruptcy help is there in the form of federal and state laws that protect honest debtors like you.

Section 341 Meeting of Creditors Hearing:

Under Chapter 7 bankruptcy rules and Chapter 13 bankruptcy rules of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, a 341 hearing is scheduled for every case that is filed.  The code requires all chapter 7 and chapter 13 bankruptcy petitioners to meet with a court appointed Trustee.

The goal of the Section 341 Meeting of Creditors Hearing is to give the Trustee an opportunity to review the bankruptcy forms and financial documents that you or your bankruptcy attorney submitted.  The Trustee will use this meeting as an opportunity to ask you questions about your debts and financial circumstances in order to inform their decision to allow or object to your bankruptcy case.  Attorneys representing your creditors may also be present at this hearing and may pose additional questions to you regarding your financial state of affairs.

Chapter 13 Confirmation Hearing:

Within 45 days following your initial meeting of creditors, the bankruptcy judge will hold a confirmation hearing to determine whether the proposed Chapter 13 reorganization or payment plan is feasible and satisfies the standards for confirmation under U.S. Bankruptcy Code.  Creditors may object to the debtor’s plan on the basis that the plan proposes to pay back less than the creditors would receive if the debtor’s assets were liquidated, or the plan doesn’t account for most of the debtor’s disposable income for the three or five year commitment period.

If the court confirms the plan, the Chapter 13 Trustee will distribute funds received under the plan to priority creditors.  If the court declines the plan, the debtor may file a modified plan or convert the case to a liquidation case under Chapter 7 bankruptcy rules.

You will need to bring the following with you to your bankruptcy hearing:

  • Government issued photo ID such as a driver’s license or passport;
  • Social security card or several pay stubs with your social security number on them;
  • A list of all creditors and the amount and nature of their claims;
  • The source, amount, and frequency of the debtor’s income;
  • Most recent federal and state tax returns;
  • A list of all of the debtor’s property;
  • Homeowners must bring a copy of the deed, mortgage statement and proof of insurance;
  • Car owners must bring paperwork demonstrating ownership or the balance due on loans and proof of insurance;
  • A detailed list of the debtor’s monthly living expenses including, food, clothing, shelter, utilities, taxes, transportation and medication; and
  • If your taxes are not current, you must demonstrate that your back taxes have been filed or will be by the time the case is confirmed by the bankruptcy judge.

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Rules:

To establish whether a presumption of abuse exists, all individual debtors who file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition must complete Official Bankruptcy Form B22A, entitled “Statement of Current Monthly Income and Means Test Calculation – For Use in Chapter 7.” The Official Forms may be downloaded from the U.S. Courts website.

Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Rules:

Filing the bankruptcy petition under Chapter 13 “automatically stays” most collection actions against the debtor, co-debtors or the debtor’s property. For homeowners, the automatic stay stops a foreclosure proceeding as soon as the debtor petitions for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection. During the period the stay is in effect, creditors may not proceed with lawsuits, wage garnishments, or contact the debtor for the purpose of demanding repayment. The bankruptcy clerk notifies the debtor’s creditors of the bankruptcy filing.  Through a Chapter 13 reorganization plan, the debtor may satisfy past-due payments over a reasonable period of time.

Bankruptcy Court Prep:

Now that you know what to expect from your bankruptcy hearings, here are a few remaining tips:

  • Double-check that you have everything you need.  Be prepared and print off the checklist of documents you need to bring with you to your bankruptcy hearing.  If you haven’t already handed them over to your bankruptcy lawyer, make sure to bring them with you.
  • Dress to impress.  A shirt and tie for men, if you have it. A blouse and dress pants or skirt for women, if you have it.  To show respect for the court process and the people who have shown up to review your case and circumstances, do not wear jeans and a t-shirt.
  • Arrive early.  If you need directions to the courthouse or are unclear about where your hearing will be located in the building, call the your lawyer or contact the courthouse the day before your hearing.  Arrive 30 minutes to an hour early.

What is a Bankruptcy Trustee?

A U.S. Bankruptcy Trustee, also known as a Trustee in Bankruptcy, is an individual or an entity who is appointed by the U.S. Department of Justice to administer a bankruptcy case.  Chapter 7 and 13 trustees are typically professional accountants or attorneys.

Depending on the nature of your bankruptcy proceedings, you may have limited interaction or numerous exchanges with the bankruptcy trustee assigned to your case.  For example, if you are filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you can expect to have more frequent involvement with your trustee than if you are filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

The bankruptcy trustee’s objective is to protect the interests of the creditors involved in the case, not those of the debtor.  Individuals and couples filing Chapter 13 or filing Chapter 7 bankruptcies should be prepared to protect their interests, assets and property before meeting with a bankruptcy trustee.  Hiring an experienced bankruptcy attorney to negotiate and communicate with the trustee on your behalf is a wise investment.

Chapter 13 Trustee

A bankruptcy trustee plays a larger role in Chapter 13 cases than in Chapter 7 cases.  Individuals or couples filing chapter 13 will note the trustee plays a dual role. The trustee’s main function is to ensure that the creditors’ receive fair and timely repayment of outstanding debts.  In order to achieve this, the bankruptcy trustee will work with the petitioner to reorganize debts and schedule a repayment plan.  Once the reorganization, payment plan and schedule are approved, the bankruptcy trustee assumes responsibility for receiving the debtor’s monthly payments and distributing them to creditors.

A certain amount of negotiation and a thorough understanding of bankruptcy law are required of the bankruptcy trustee so that they may endeavor that both the creditors’ and debtor’s interests are upheld in accordance with the laws of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.  The only way for a petitioner to guarantee their best interests are being represented is to retain the counsel of a bankruptcy attorney.

Chapter 7 Trustee

In Chapter 7 bankruptcy cases, the bankruptcy trustee plays a minimal role in the proceedings.  Individuals and couples filing Chapter 7 liquidation will first encounter their Chapter 7 Trustee at the Section 341 Creditors’ Meeting.  At this meeting, the trustee will review all creditor lists, financial documents, assets and exemptions that you and/or your lawyer submitted when filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Just as the trustee’s role in Chapter 13 cases is to protect the interests of the creditors, the same is true for Chapter 7 Trustees in Bankruptcy.  The Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee must aim to satisfy the creditors’ claims through the liquidation of the debtor’s non-exempt property or assets.  The trustee oversees the sale of non-exempt property and assets, and distributes the proceeds to pay the balance owed to priority creditors.  Most individuals and couples filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy petitions are classified by trustees as “no asset” cases, and therefore no property is lost.

Bankruptcy questions and answers

Above all else, remember the Bankruptcy Trustee represents the interests of the creditors in both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases.  A bankruptcy attorney can answer most of your bankruptcy questions and answers, and is in the best position to address concerns you may have about dealing with a bankruptcy trustee.  If you choose to enter bankruptcy proceedings without the assistance of bankruptcy lawyers to oversee your case, you may still benefit from contacting a legal professional to answer basic bankruptcy questions and answers prior to filing Chapter 7 or filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

#1 Resource for Finding Common Bankruptcy Forms

Filing bankruptcy may be the most emotionally- and financially-charged event in a person’s life.  Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the entire bankruptcy process is overcoming the stigma of filing personal bankruptcy. If bankruptcy truly is the most appropriate solution to overcome your crushing debt, then hold your head high because the U.S. bankruptcy code was penned to help and protect you at this difficult time.  The fundamental purpose of the federal bankruptcy laws is to give “the honest but unfortunate debtor… a new opportunity in life and a clear field for future effort, unhampered by the pressure and discouragement of preexisting debt.” (Decision of The Supreme Court, 1934)

When it comes to finding common bankruptcy forms, you need to be on the look out for local, national and official (mandatory) forms.  If you intend to seek the guidance of a qualified bankruptcy expert, your bankruptcy lawyer will assemble and organize all of the forms necessary for filing personal bankruptcy.

If you intend to take on filing bankruptcy by yourself, the best resource for finding common bankruptcy forms, explanations and instructions for the bankruptcy process is located on the U.S. Courts website.  All of the essential forms a bankruptcy lawyer utilizes are available for download from this site, including information on how to differentiate between local, national, mandatory and basic procedural forms.

The forms required for filing personal bankruptcy under Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 are listed for your benefit in Procedural Form B 200.  The U.S. Bankruptcy Court’s Form 200 contains required lists, schedules, statements and fees associated with successfully filing personal bankruptcy.

When searching for and finding common bankruptcy forms without the benefit of a bankruptcy lawyer, you must understand that all bankruptcy forms, whether official or procedural, come from one of two groupings under the bankruptcy code: the National Judiciary (National) or state (Local) categories, respectively.  Local forms differ from one state to another, while National forms are standardized and consistent across the United States.  Under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, it is mandatory to use the official forms when filing for bankruptcy.  Making use of the procedural forms is not required, although it may simplify details your personal bankruptcy case for the court reviewing your petition.  If you have any doubt about which forms are essential to successfully filing bankruptcy, a bankruptcy lawyer can provide timely advice on which forms may help to avoid unwanted delays and in some cases, a judgment of dismissal.

As you begin finding common bankruptcy forms and gain a clearer understanding of bankruptcy procedures, you may recognize that a bankruptcy form is not a single document, but a comprehensive list of individual forms and documents.   Whether you choose to hire a bankruptcy lawyer or proceed with filing bankruptcy personally, you will need to be able to differentiate the required common bankruptcy forms from the procedural ones that can be overlooked with no penalty or delay to your case.

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