As a bankruptcy lawyer, I have always provided a free consultation for any individual or family that is thinking about filing for bankruptcy. During this meeting, which normally last about an hour, I review the financial circumstances the potential client is facing and try to help the debtor determine a few things. First, is bankruptcy the right way to handle their situation. Second, which type of bankruptcy is the best option. And third, what initial steps need to be taken right now before the case is filed.
One of the many questions I receive over the phone when setting up this free bankruptcy consultation is “What paperwork should I bring to my free consultation for bankruptcy?” This seems like it would be a simple question to answer, but in reality there are two answers to this question.
First, the simple answer: nothing. That’s right, a debtor can meet with me to consult on his or her bankruptcy with absolutely no paperwork ready at the time. As long as he or she has in their head some generic information, I should be able to give a simple consultation with answers based on that. Some of this information would include:
- What type of debts are owed (such as credit card/medical bills/mortgage), but not necessarily to whom exactly.
- A ballpark figure on the amount of debt, but again this does not need to be specific.
- An idea of what property they own. A home? A car? What are they roughly worth? Any other items worth a good amount of money?
- An estimate of the monthly income for the family. Including spouses that are not filing and any income not reflected in paychecks.
After a person supplies this information during a consultation they will be supplied with a workbook to take home and lay out all the specifics in order to file the bankruptcy correctly. However, because specifics were not supplied at the initial meeting, some advice and information may change when more specific information is presented.
Second, the best answer: A lot If a debtor really wants to be prepared for the initial meeting with their bankruptcy lawyer, they will need to gather some information prior to the meeting. This will help myself to really dig into the financial situation, property arrangements, income, etc. in order to answer any questions as fully as possible. This would also help to speed up the process of the bankruptcy filing as most of the work would be done ahead of time.
The items which would be most helpful include:
- A list of all debts, who is owed, and how much is owed.
- A list of all property, especially homes, cars, land, and any property which is secured by a debt, with a true fair market value of each piece of property.
- The last 6 months of pay stubs for everyone in the home, including spouses that are not filing.
- Any legal notices such as: foreclosure notices, lawsuit summons, threats from creditors, etc.
- A copy of all three major credit reports which can be obtained at www.annualcreditreport.com for free.
- The last 3 years of tax returns.
- Business records for any business owned in the last 10 years.
By collecting this information ahead of time a debtor is more likely to get solid answers to their questions about filing bankruptcy. I would be able to evaluate whether the debtor qualifies for bankruptcy under the means test, whether any property would be un-exempt and subject to being turned over to the trustee, and look for any other red flags which might present themselves during the course of the bankruptcy.
There are some debtors that want to know the entire roadmap of the bankruptcy process when they leave their first meeting. There are other debtors that just need a simple understanding and reassurance that it will be the right thing for them overall and they will wait to figure out the details. I enjoy helping both of these type of debtors during our initial meeting. So, the answer to “what should I bring to my first meeting with my bankruptcy lawyer?” really depends on which type of person you are.