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Can I file bankruptcy without an attorney?

On Behalf of | Apr 5, 2016 | Bankruptcy, Firm News

Yes, it is legal and possible to do this. And it may end up working out. There are online video tutorials, and as of December 1, 2015 and now there are “user-friendly” fill-in savable forms, which increased the length of a typical bankruptcy petition from 30 pages to 50 pages. And the simple fact is, you need to provide information to your attorney that you would provide to the court – the attorney doesn’t come up with your information out of thin air. (However, we do have access to services that can automatically input creditor information to your bankruptcy petition without needing to individually input that).

A bankruptcy attorney’s job is much more than putting together the paperwork, and appearing with you at the creditor meeting. The attorney’s biggest job is ensuring that you are eligible to file, comparing bankruptcy options to non-bankruptcy alternatives, discussing timing ramifications (if it is better to file in one month as opposed to another), and protecting your assets appropriately. Even if you have nominal assets, if they are not properly exempted, you will lose them to the trustee. There are so many different things that are assets that people may not even think of listing as assets, such as earned but unpaid wages and bonuses, future tax refunds including property tax and rental rebates, personal-injury claims and inheritances, gift cards, the right to recover involuntary garnishments, money in the bank on the date of filing (even if there are outstanding uncleared checks), and money that is not in the bank, including uncashed checks.

Trustees love unrepresented parties, because they can usually find and collect $1,000-2,000 or so of assets which were not properly protected, which usually ends up defeating the whole purpose of trying to save money on an attorney. Intrafamily transactions are particularly scrutinized. One thing I have noticed over 25 years, is that many people (even very honest people) have a sense of “my family transactions are none of the government’s business.” There is nothing inherently wrong or illegal about looking to family members when a person’s finances take a hit, and wanting to protect family members and not draw them into the bankruptcy. But when you are seeking the awesome remedies that a bankruptcy discharge provides, in return your finances must become transparent. It often takes a good deal of questioning for me to get people to explain what happened, and then to discuss with them the ramifications and how best to mitigate any unintended consequences. Failing to make proper disclosures can result not only in negative consequences to relatives, but can also derail the bankruptcy and prompt felony federal prosecution for perjury.

Most bankruptcy attorneys charge a flat fee. A good attorney will be able to promptly respond to calls and emails, and will have competent staff available when the attorney is busy.

And perhaps the important benefit of having an attorney, is that you will be assisted and reminded throughout the process of all of the documents that need to be provided at each step along the way, as well as the importance of documents that are received, and whether a response is necessary. (Of all of the forms that are available, some of them are meaningless and can be disregarded, but certain ones are imperative, and missing one little thing could end up being fatal to the entire bankruptcy). There is also the additional ongoing advice with respect to how secured creditors are handled, which is typically a case-by-case basis.

When I need painting done, I hire a painter. I bring my car to a mechanic to change my oil. I understand accounting and taxes, but I have an accountant. Considering the typical debtor discharges over $20,000 in debt and often pays less than $2,000 for my services, the value received from hiring a bankruptcy attorney results in not only a good return on investment, but can also prevent further damage.