Deciding to file bankruptcy is difficult. But then the difficulty only compounds when it comes to choosing an attorney. We’ve talked about what to look for in choosing an attorney here. Once that choice is made, what should you expect?
Expect to meet with the attorney, not with an administrative assistant or paralegal. Only attorneys can give legal advice. Sometimes an attorney will ask a client to complete a questionnaire online prior to the meeting. If not, expect that the first few minutes of the consultation will be spent filling out a form of basic information: name, address, phone number, email address, spouse or partner’s name. After that, the nature of the advice will depend on whether the client is still trying to decide if bankruptcy is best or whether she has already made that decision and is ready to go ahead.
I like to start my initial meetings by asking what you know about the types of bankruptcy. People often have heard of the two main types, Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. I’ll explain in a little more detail about each one. Then I’ll ask for information about the client and their situation:
• A brief history of how the client got in this situation. For example, is it the result of job loss, divorce, medical bills?
• Background information on the client, their spouse or partner, children and other dependents.
• Employment and gross monthly household income from all sources.
• An estimate of value for houses, other real estate, cars, boats and other “big ticket” items (including financial accounts), and how much, in round numbers, is owed on each.
• Whether there are student loans or back taxes.
• Whether the person has been sued and whether she is being garnished or facing foreclosure or repossession.
After I have some idea of your situation, we’ll discuss how each type of bankruptcy will work in the client’s particular case and which might be better.
Next, we’ll talk about the basic procedure for bankruptcy, depending on the chapter, and an estimated timeline for the case.
We’ll discuss important issues in your the case based on the information. For example, there might be equity in a home that could be at risk.
If the client is ready to go forward, I’ll give them a packet of forms to complete and return so we can prepare the necessary documents. I’ll go over this packet to explain what information I need and why. In addition to completing the packet, there is a list of documents that must be gathered and provided, such as past tax returns, the most recent six months of pay stubs, bank account records and other information. There will also be information on how and where to take the mandatory consumer credit counseling course that all people filing bankruptcy must take.
It might be impossible to answer all questions at the initial consultation. For example, if income is close to the median income for a family of that size, I might not be able to tell whether or not the person qualifies for Chapter 7 until I get verification of all income (the six months of pay stubs) and complete the Means Test. However, people should ask all the questions that they have. It’s helpful to write down those questions before the meeting.
All of this can be done via telephone or videoconference and email.
It’s hard to talk to a stranger about financial situations. Remember that an attorney can’t help he doesn’t know everything about the case. Always be forthright and never hold anything back due to fear or embarrassment. If you need bankruptcy advice, please contact us. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call or text (801) 413-3708.