Should You Hire a Bankruptcy Lawyer?

Some of the major reasons why people who know they need to file for bankruptcy, but postpone doing so, is fears about filing either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, and concern about paying the legal fees.

Some debtors consider filing bankruptcy on their own.  However, this can be a major mistake and can create additional problems.  As I have written about previously, bankruptcy involves a number of procedural and substantive steps and tests that have to be satisfied before the bankruptcy court can grant a discharge.

In both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases, the debtor must appear before a court-appointed trustee for a 341 hearing.  The bankruptcy trustee who conducts the hearing is not someone who is there to help the debtor.  His role is just the opposite. The trustee is charged with investigating the debtor and his financial circumstances to determine if there are any assets available for thee benefit of creditors.  Meeting with an experienced bankruptcy attorney will enable the debtor to have his or her financial situation reviewed and assets protected in advance to the extent possible.

What debtors may not realize is that certain types of financial transactions that may have taken place years before filing can have a major impact on the debtor’s bankruptcy.  For example, if any significant assets were given away or if real estate was transferred, this may amount to what is known as a fraudulent conveyance or a preference, and may result in significant litigation in the bankruptcy case.  Usually, a bankruptcy lawyer will review these issues before a bankruptcy petition is filed in order to mitigate the risk.

While the bankruptcy petition is written in plain English, it is a difficult document to prepare for someone who is not familiar with the Bankruptcy Code. A complete petition in a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in New York, including all of the various forms and schedules runs in excess of 40 pages.  The petition requires preparing numerous schedules and budgets.  The debtor must list appropriate information about his debts, assets, income and expenses.

The Statement of Financial Affairs includes numerous questions that must be answered. All of the debtor’s creditors must be listed not only in a schedule of debts (segregated in three separate categories) but also in a special format called a Matrix. Such listing must include creditors’ names, addresses, account numbers, dates when any debts were incurred and their purpose.

When Congress passed BAPCPA in 2005, it imposed many new requirements.  The most significant of those requirements is a complex and complicated means test, as well as the requirement for mandatory credit counseling.  The Chapter 7 trustee as well as the Office of the U.S. Trustee reviews each and every petition to make sure all of the requirements under the new law are properly met. The means test is complicated, and the debtor’s failure to properly prepare the bankruptcy means test can create significant problems as the United States Trustee can seek to have the bankruptcy case dismissed.

The debtor must also choose which Chapter of bankruptcy to file.  If a debtor is seeking to stop foreclosure and cure mortgage arrears, a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy filing won’t be helpful. At the same time, a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy filing is likely to result in a 3-5 years payment plan.

There are self-help books that explain how a debtor can prepare and file his petition and complete the process.  However, there are many traps for the unwary that even attorneys who do not regularly practice bankruptcy often create problems for their clients.

Every bankruptcy trustee I know in Rochester, New York, has expressed concern about those debtors who file bankruptcy without an attorney because these debtors often make serious procedural and substantive mistakes. Self-representation by pro-se debtors in bankruptcy matters can end up being a mistake, and result in further financial problems for the debtor.

If you contemplating filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, or are dealing with debt problems in Western New York, including Rochester, New York, Canandaigua, Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield, Perinton, Fairport, Webster, Victor, Farmington, Greece, Gates, Hilton, Parma, Brockport, Spencerport, LeRoy, Chili, Churchville, Monroe County, Ontario County, Wayne County, Orleans County, Livingston County, and being harassed by bill collectors, and would like to know more about how bankruptcy may be able to help you, contact me today by phone or email to schedule a FREE initial consultation with a Rochester, NY, bankruptcy lawyer.