HOW TO PREPARE FOR YOUR BANKRUPTCY CONSULTATION
Prepare for your bankruptcy consultation if you want advice specific to your situation, whether you are ready to proceed or still exploring your options to decide whether Chapter 13 or Chapter 7 bankruptcy relief works for you. Here’s how to get prepared:
A decision to file for bankruptcy relief is one of the most important decisions one makes. The advice a bankruptcy lawyer gives you is based on the information you provide. If you’re simply looking for general information, you don’t need to meet with a lawyer. There are many bankruptcy lawyer websites, such as this one, that provide helpful information. If you are looking for advice, the lawyer needs specific details about your situation. Don’t be lazy and just show up unprepared to see what the lawyer has to say. If the lawyer does not have all the relevant facts, the advice you receive may prove to be different from what it would have been had all the information been provided. An experienced bankruptcy lawyer will know what questions to ask and this will reduce the likelihood of key information being overlooked. There is a lot of information to be covered and time is money, so be prepared.
Since it takes time to explain the process, elicit the important information, answer your questions, evaluate your circumstances and explain your options in one consultation, it makes sense for the bulk of the lawyer’s time to be spent on applying his or her knowledge to the facts of your case and giving you advice rather than on eliciting basic information from you. You will get much more “bang for the buck” if you:
- Prepare a list of your secured creditors (i.e. those who have mortgages on your real estate, a lien on your vehicle or household property, or judgments against you if you also own or a buying a home). Put the last known amount owed next to each creditor and total this list!
- Attach a copy of your most recent statements showing the current balance of your mortgage, vehicle, judgment or claim.
- Prepare a list of your unsecured creditors (i.e. those who you owe on credit cards, medical bills, broken leases, personal loans, etc). Put the last known amount owed next to each and total this list!
- If you made purchases on credit from a store using a store card (such as a Sears card, or from a jewelry store, – not a VISA or other bank credit card) the debt may be secured, so list such debts as “Store Card Debts“. Put the last known amount owed next to each and total this list!
- If you bought or sold or transferred any interest in real estate, whether as a regular sale, a timeshare, condominium, trailer home, vacation home, investment property, a transfer to a parent, sibling or child, even if it is an inheritance or involves a trust, – no exceptions, – write down a brief explanation providing the property address, the parties involved, the date of the transaction, the value of the property, the amount involved and the reason for the transaction. Attach a copy of the Deed, Mortgage or Deed of Trust, and the Settlement Statement, Separation Agreement, Divorce Decree, Will, Trust agreement, etc. If you have a copy of the tax assessment as well that would be helpful. Any concerns you may have can be discussed but you must disclose this information to your lawyer!
- Make a list of your household income and expenses. You’re obviously having difficulty making ends meet. That is why you are considering bankruptcy, right? So, make a list of your take-home income each pay period. Make a note of any bonuses and/or commissions you receive. If you work overtime, try to figure out approximately how much overtime pay you bring home on average each month. We know it varies, but the court needs to have as accurate an idea as possible, so review your past year’s pay-stubs or at least 6 month’s worth and make an effort to calculate this amount so that the lawyer can better determine your legal options and give you better advice. Make a separate list of your expenses. First list your regular living expenses, such as mortgage or rent, utilities, insurance, car payment, health insurance premiums, and so forth. Then add the food and household expenses, clothing, fuel for your vehicles, haircuts, pet food and vet expenses, modest entertainment expenses, home maintenance and repairs, auto maintenance and repairs, and so forth. Do NOT include your monthly credit card and other bills in this list. Those bills would be dealt with in the bankruptcy. The lawyer needs to know what you really need to live on each month not counting those debts. Be realistic because you need to be able to live on your budget, and if you cannot, the lawyer needs to be able to review your expenses to consider planning possibilities.
- Bankruptcy is a privilege not a right. The courts expect you to make full disclosure of al your creditors and all your assets. Your living expenses need to be reasonable and necessary. Any proposed bankruptcy plan must be made in good faith, which is something the trustee and the court considers looking at the totality of the circumstances. Your lawyer has an obligation to perform certain due diligence and certify to the court that the information provided has been verified as much as possible. Bankruptcy fraud is a serious crime and the failure to disclose information, even if a result of an oversight, may result in one’s bankruptcy being denied or revoked.
- If you have filed for bankruptcy relief before, check and note the date you filed. Your lawyer needs to know this up front. If you have lived out of state in the past two years or are moving soon, let your lawyer know right away.
- Never try to mislead your lawyer! Your lawyer is there to help you get the best possible result. An experienced lawyer armed with all the information may be able to figure out a creative solution. All information you provide to the lawyer is confidential and protected by the attorney-client privilege.
- If you value a lawyer’s opinion, then expect to pay a reasonable fee for the lawyer’s time and consideration of your case. Lawyer’s who offer “free initial consultations” are trying to get you in the door and will not spend the time or effort necessary at the initial consultation to provide you with the thorough professional evaluation you need to be able to move forward with Peace of Mind. So why waste your time and the lawyer’s time? Bite the bullet, use your time wisely, find out what you need to know, and put yourself in a position to move forward. Usually, a lawyer who charges for the consultation will be ready to get to the meat of your case right away and will credit that fee towards your total fee, so you will not be paying more anyway.
As regards lawyer’s fees,… obviously fees vary from lawyer to lawyer, just as doctors’ and accountants’ and other professionals’ fees vary. You cannot realistically choose a good lawyer by calling around for fee quotes. Do you do that to find a doctor? How can you be quoted a fair fee without the lawyer meeting with you and determining all the relevant facts and issues? Lawyers are not allowed to charge excessive fees and all lawyer’s fees in bankruptcy cases are subject to court approval. In most cases, if you are cooperative, friendly and reasonable, you will find the lawyer you meet with to be professional, respectful, understanding and reasonable. If you are not happy with the lawyer you meet with, you can always hire someone else. If your priority is to find the cheapest lawyer in town, be prepared to get what you pay for. Can you afford not to get the best advice and have the job done right the first time?
Contact us now to inquire about our bankruptcy related legal services.