Bankruptcy is divided in several clear stages.
At each of these stages, there are different requirements from you and from your attorney. If everything goes as planned, these are the most likely stages you will face:
The first stage of bankruptcy involves the gathering of your financial information. You will have to do this yourself because most institutions will not release this information to anyone except the account holder. Also, some of these requirements may vary depending on which chapter you are filing under. Here is a list of the information you will need:
- Bank account statements for the last six months from every bank account in your name.
- Paystubs from work for the last six months.
- The last two state and federal tax returns you filed.
- The most recent account statement for any mortgage in your name.
- The most recent account statement for any vehicle loan in your name, such as a car, boat, or other vehicle.
- All debt collection letters ot letters from lawyers that you have received.
- Copy of any Notice of Default or Notice of Trustee Sale you may have received for your home or other real estate.
- Copy of any lawsuit filed against you, or a past judgment from a lawsuit.
- Most recent statement for any retirement account or investment account in your name.
2. Petition Preparation
The second stage of bankruptcy involves preparing the petition. Once you have gathered all of the information, I will prepare the petition by entering the information into the schedules and forms which together comprise the bankruptcy petition.
During this stage I will order a copy of your credit report to ensure that all of the debts in your name are listed. This will not cost you anything if you have retained my office to represent you.
You will also have to complete a credit counseling course online for which I can give you the instructions. This will also not cost you anything if you have retained my office to represent you.
3. Sign-off and Filing
The third stage of the bankruptcy process is where you review the petition. In this stage you and I will sit down and carefully go over every page of the petition to ensure it is accurate. Remember, this is your petition and your case, and you are responsible for ensuring it is completely accurate. Once the review is complete, you will need to sign and date the forms in multiple locations. Once it has been signed, your I will file it electronically through the Court’s Electronic Filing System (ECF).
Once the case is filed, you will also have to complete a credit counseling course online for which I can give you the instructions. This will also not cost you anything if you have retained my office to represent you.
If you are filing under Chapter 13, then the monthly trustee payments start immediately after filing. Also, if you intend to keep a car or a house, then payments on the loan for these items must continue to be made after filing the petition. If you fall behind on these payments, the creditors will get permission from the Court to foreclose on the house or repossess the car.
4. Meeting of Creditors
The next stage is what is called the “Meeting of Creditors” or 341 Hearing, which refers to the section of the Bankruptcy Code which requires this meeting. It is not held in a court, you do not appear in front of a judge, and you are not going to be cros–examined or yelled at, and I will be sitting right next to you at the table. You will be meeting with the bankrtupcy trustee who administers the case on behalf of the Court. This is normally the only time you need to appear in person for anything in the case, which is usually held in a hearing room at federal building located at 777 Sonoma Avenue, Santa Rosa, California, 95404.
You must have a current photo ID and social security card with you at the hearing.
This hearing is usually three to four weeks after the petition is filed. You will be under oath, and the Trustee will ask you a series of questions to verify your identity, verify that you filed the case, and also to ensure the petition is accurate and complete. If there are any problems, the Trustee usually contact me in advance, and we can resolve them prior to the hearing. If there is an unexpected problem, the worst that can happen is that the trustee asks for more information, and we have to come back again after we get that information to them.
Creditors can also ask you questions at this hearing if they chose to. It extremely unusual for creditors to show up at this hearing, but it does happen. This is especially true if you have an ex-spouse who is upset with you, or a creditor that is very angry about the case. If they become rude or hostile, I will be sitting right next you, and I can promise you that I can be very loud and aggressive too if they start to behave inappropriately. They are limited to asking you questions about the bankruptcy case, and nothing else.
Following the 341 hearing, there will be a series of procedural steps depending on which chapter you have filed under. Most of these will be handled by my office and do not require anything further from you.
In a Chapter 7 case, there will be a report from the trustee to the Judge recommending discharge of your debts. After reviewing the Trustee report, the Judge will issue a discharge order approximately 60 days after the 341 hearing.
If you are filing under Chapter 13, there will be a confirmation hearing about three to four weeks after the Meeting of Creditors, and you do not need to attend this hearing. This hearing is where the trustee makes a recommendation to the Judge whether the Chapter 13 plan will work or not, and if yes, the plan is then confirmed. If there are any issues the confirmation will be continued until a later date so they can be resolved.
Once the case is confirmed, you will need to make all of the Trustee payments by the 20th of each month for the full duration of the plan, which can be up to five years long. Only after all payments are completed will you receive a discharge order from the Judge.
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