By the time a person realizes they need bankruptcy relief, it is understandable that his or her resources already are extremely limited. The thought of hiring a bankruptcy attorney can be overwhelming. It is for this reason that many filers choose to go it alone or file for bankruptcy pro se. Filing for bankruptcy without an attorney is perfectly legal.
Many pro se filers are able to navigate the bankruptcy system successfully. The decision to file pro se can have significant downsides and associated consequences. For this reason, it is important to understand what is involved when filing for bankruptcy pro se before taking the leap.
Contact an Attorney First
It may be helpful for an individual considering bankruptcy to first talk with a bankruptcy law attorney. This may seem senseless if the person is seriously considering filing without the assistance of an attorney. However, the attorney may be able to at least advise the filer on the downfalls of choosing to file pro se. The attorney also may have referrals to other resources, including an accountant or other sources of information. Two different options exist for a person who needs to file for bankruptcy, including Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
Most attorneys offer free consultations so starting here is a great place. It helps to walk into the process with as much information as possible. The individual may later decide to hire an attorney; that is his or her decision, but this first meeting may be enough to help make that eventual decision.
Doing It Alone
If the filer ultimately does make the decision to file a bankruptcy case on his or her own, the next step is to find the proper paperwork. Much of the filings in bankruptcy court come in standard government forms, that are available from the Court. Court personnel can give instructions for filing the case but cannot assist with preparing the case or give legal advice. Depending on how complex the case is, and the type of bankruptcy filing being pursued, filing pro se can be manageable. The complexity of a case is not determined solely by how many debts the filer has, but the type of debt and value of the assets he or she may have also are important considerations.
A pro se filer will need to list their property and assets and designate proper exemptions. Every state has its own exemption laws that protect certain property the individual is able to keep even after the case is over. The exemptions protect property so that it is not reachable by creditors or the bankruptcy court. In a Chapter 7 case, if the filer owns property that is not covered under an exemption, the bankruptcy trustee is able to take the property, sell it and use that money to re-pay creditors as much as possible.
In a Chapter 13 filing, non-exempt property can be added as part of the repayment plan if the filer wishes to keep the property and increase the payments. It is important that the pro se filer know what exemptions are possible in his or her state and how to claim them. The trustee will not do the work for the filer. This is where working with an attorney is beneficial, especially if keeping property is a big concern for the filer.
Increased Court Oversight
If someone does wish to pursue bankruptcy pro se, it should be expected that the bankruptcy court and the bankruptcy trustee may pay special attention to the case. The trustee will want to make sure that all forms are filled out properly, especially when it comes to exemptions claimed. The trustee may assume that the filer does not know what he or she is doing, and many times this will cause the trustee to ask for more documentation, including tax returns, proof of purchase, and other account statements.
The 341 creditor meeting also may last longer than other cases because an attorney will not be present to quickly go through everything for the filer. The trustee will preside over the meeting and will put the filer under oath. However, the questions and information gathering may take a little longer in a pro se matter. The trustee will need to ensure that everything is done properly and accurately.
If anything is submitted that is knowingly false or inaccurate, the filer will be held responsible and could be found guilty for making false statements under oath. Add, the Court will assume that the pro se filer knows the same law and rules as an attorney. The Court cannot provide assistance (advice) related to liens, secured debt, litigation or objections from creditors.
Weighing the Costs
For many pro se filers, the cost of filing for bankruptcy is the biggest concern they have. One thing to keep in mind is that if the filer’s income is below a certain threshold, he or she may qualify for assistance from the state Legal Services Corporation or another Legal Aid agency. It does not hurt to reach out to these agencies if the person considering bankruptcy is not 100 percent sure he or she can handle the filing pro se but cannot afford the full cost of hiring a bankruptcy attorney.
CONTACT AN ARLINGTON BANKRUPTCY ATTORNEY FOR A FREE CONSULTATION TODAY
An experienced Texas bankruptcy lawyer can help you with any questions you may have about filing for bankruptcy and protecting your property. Call the Law Office of Marilyn D. Garner NOW at (817) 505-1499 for a free consultation to discuss how bankruptcy may help you to manage your debts.