Under Section 341 of the Bankruptcy Code, all debtors seeking some form of bankruptcy must meet with the bankruptcy trustee in what is called a “Meeting of Creditors” or “341 Meeting.”
Aside from the name, this hearing or meeting is not as intimidating as it sounds. What all is involved in a 341 meeting/hearing? Who needs to be there, and what should a filer expect?
The Parties at the Table
Several individuals or entities have the right to be present at the Meeting of Creditors, the first of whom is the debtor who has filed for bankruptcy, as well as their attorney.
The bankruptcy trustee will be the person conducting the meeting, and the filer's creditors will also have the right to be present and heard at this meeting. Most of these hearings or meetings only last a matter of five to ten minutes and creditors seldom attend.
The Head of the Table: The Trustee
The bankruptcy trustee is the individual who is responsible for administering the filer's estate. The bankruptcy trustee will administer an oath to the debtor to give truthful testimony and will review the accuracy of the information filed with the Court.
The trustee also will determine if a debtor has any assets that should be sold in order to pay creditors. The bankruptcy trustee will need the filer's cooperation and assistance to make sure that all assets or potential assets are disclosed.
It is important that the filer works closely with their attorney prior to the meeting in order to turn in all of the required information to assist the bankruptcy trustee in evaluating the case.
Prior to the Meeting
Before the meeting with the bankruptcy trustee and applicable creditors, the filer should review their bankruptcy petition once more. They need to make sure there was nothing left out and no discrepancies exist.
If the filer sees anything that is incorrect, they need to bring it to the attention of their attorney. An amendment can be filed before the meeting if that is at all possible.
The filer may also bring these inconsistencies to the trustee’s attention prior to or at the start of the meeting. Any indication that the filer may be less than honest will not go well, so it is always best for the filer to be forthright with the trustee from the start.
What Should Be Brought to the Meeting?
First, the debtor needs to bring their most basic forms of identification, including photo identification (ie driver’s license) and a Social Security card. If they do not have a Social Security card, they must at least bring proof of their Social Security number (ie a W-2 form, tax transcript or correspondence from a governmental agency, that shows the full number), or a statement that they do not have a number.
In some jurisdictions the filer may be asked to bring proof of income, their most recent bank statements, investment account statements, their most recent tax return and a copy of the bankruptcy pleadings. The best rule of thumb is to bring anything that could be relevant. Never assume that the trustee has everything.
What Happens During the Meeting
If the debtor is worried about facing creditors in open court, they do not need to fear. The meeting is usually conducted in conference room instead of a court room setting.
The trustee will be the one in charge, and no judge will be present. The debtor's creditors will be given notice of the meeting, but this does not necessarily mean that any of them will be present.
However, like a court setting, the debtor will be sworn in and will be asked questions by the trustee. They will be under oath (subject to penalty for perjury) so it is important that they tell the truth to each question asked.
An attorney will be present to protect the debtor's rights as needed. Most of these questions will come from the information they already have provided in their petition. The trustee may follow up with more questions about the debtor's specific assets and debts.
Questions will be asked as to any assets that they may not have disclosed such as tax refunds they may still be expecting, any money they may be owed by other individuals, any property that is being held by another person or property they may be getting through a court judgment, divorce or other legal proceeding.
It is important that the debtor answer truthfully and to the best of their knowledge. If it is discovered later that they were hiding any of this information, the consequences could be harsh.
Why Would a Creditor Appear?
Creditors are given notice of the 341 Meeting, but usually are not present. However, some may appear if they want more information from the debtor.
For instance, if your bankruptcy papers have different financial figures than the credit application that was submitted to the creditor, that could be concern for fraud.
In addition, if the debtor received a recent cash advance from a creditor, they may want to find out if the debtor had any intention of paying it when they incurred the debt. Creditors may attend the meeting to have the debtor answer questions under oath to protect their own financial interests.
Finalization of Bankruptcy
The trustee will use the information obtained from the debtor prior to and at the Meeting of Creditors to evaluate the case for discharge of debt. It is of vital importance that the debtor appear at and cooperate with the Trustee at the 341 Meeting.
If the filer has any concerns about what to expect and how to prepare, they should contact a bankruptcy attorney before the meeting date.
CONTACT AN ARLINGTON BANKRUPTCY ATTORNEY FOR A FREE CONSULTATION TODAY
If you or a loved one are declaring bankruptcy, an experienced Texas bankruptcy lawyer can help to properly prepare a bankruptcy case and address any concerns you have about the bankruptcy process.
Call the Law Office of Marilyn D. Garner now at 817.381.9292 for a free consultation to discuss how bankruptcy may help to protect your assets and manage your debts.