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Can I File Bankruptcy Without an Attorney?

Why Can’t I File a Bankruptcy on My Own Without an Attorney?

Surprisingly, many clients come in or do not come in for that matter because they believe that they do not need to pay for an attorney to prepare paperwork for them. Many people believe that they are filing bankruptcy because they have no money and therefore should not have to pay for a bankruptcy attorney. Here are some of the frequently asked question s about filing bankruptcy on your own, known as pro se, or filing bankruptcy with the help of a licensed bankruptcy attorney.

Q: Can I file a bankruptcy on my own?
A: Yes, the court will allow you to file a bankruptcy on your own; this is known as pro se. However, it is not recommended by attorneys, some bankruptcy judges or some of the trustees. There are many different reasons why it may not be wise to file on your own without the help of a licensed attorney.

Q: Why do I have to fill out forms if I am hiring an attorney?
A: You made the right decision; you decided to hire an attorney to help in the bankruptcy. Your attorney will then give you forms to complete. Now you want to know why if you are going to have to complete all the forms yourself, why did you hire an attorney? That is pretty simple. A bulk of the information required on the forms is information that the attorney does know now the information for. For example, the petition requires information on all of your personal property, income, expenses, prior addresses, etc. Sure, an attorney can pull your credit report but there is no information that an attorney can pull that will show your personal property, expenses, etc. Those are things that only you would know so yes, you will provide the majority of the information. However, and this is the crucial part, what your attorney does is input that information provided into the forms as required by the bankruptcy rules.

Q: Are the forms really that complicated?
A: To an experienced bankruptcy attorney, no. To a paralegal who is familiar with the forms, possibly no. To someone who has never filed bankruptcy before and does not know what all of the terms mean, yes. Will someone who has never filed bankruptcy know what some one of the forms means and what information the form is asking for? Absolutely. But the flip side of that is that they are undoubtedly forms that the average Debtor will not understand without the help of someone who is experienced in the area.

Q: What is the worst that can happen? Won’t they just make me fix whatever I messed up?
A: Unfortunately, it is usually not that easy. It is not always as easy as making a correction to a form. Without having an attorney looking at your situation, income, debts, etc., you may be filing a Chapter 7 when you are not eligible for one or be filing a bankruptcy at a time where there may be serious implications for you depending on what claims you have pending. Once there are assets found in a Chapter 7, you may not be able to simply let your case get dismissed. You could get stuck in the bankruptcy. That doesn’t sound too bad right? After all, that is why you filed the bankruptcy. However, what if you end up losing your house or your car? With the wrong advice this is a possibility. But that is not all. If you do not list items that are required to be disclosed such as property, income, etc. there can be legal consequences. Often times people want to list only what they believe is important property. That can create major issues in the bankruptcy. Bankruptcy is about full disclosure. So the fact that that your 401k may be protected in your bankruptcy does not mean that failure to disclosure such is not significant. All of the bankruptcy schedules are signed under penalty of perjury so any lack of disclosure is perjury. Committing perjury can result in criminal prosecution and denial of your discharge. Yes, that right. You could end up in prison AND still have all of the debt which would put you in a worse position than when you started the bankruptcy.

Q: So I really should bite the bullet and hire an attorney?
A: Hiring an attorney will take the time and stress out of the process for you. Hiring an attorney will cost money up front but ultimately discharge your debts. An attorney will also prepare you for your meeting of creditors to ensure that your appearance is only required once.

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