The 7 Realities Of Doing Your Bankruptcy Pro Se
If you are living a fairly uncomplicated life other than having a lot of consumer debt with few assets and are computer literate, filing out your bankruptcy forms and representing yourself may be quite feasible for you. However, there are seven realities you should be prepared for.
1. You're pretty much on your own.
As a pro se filer, you can't expect a load of free legal advice from the people you will be dealing with. The court clerk you will file your papers with may help you find a form or ask a procedural question, but they are barred from answering legal questions. They can't and won't help you make decisions about what exemptions to take or what chapter to file. This something a forms-filler cannot do either, should you decide to hire one.
2. You are going to need plenty of printer ink and paper.
Some of the most popular bankruptcy preparation books will tell you that you will need to make 4 copies of each of your forms. The truth is you will probably only need two: One copy of everything to file at the court, and one to keep for your records, but to save some extra aggravation go on and print the extra copies. Depending on the jurisdiction where you file, you may need to use a two hole legal punch at the top of the forms.
Filling out the forms is a lot easier than it used to be, because now the forms are available online as PDF forms that you can fill out on your computer before printing them.
3. The library is going to be your best friend.
You may have bought a shiny new self help preparation book plus plenty of office supplies, but you are going to run into some things, particularly about your state, that you will have questions about. Your public or local law library will have some references books that could prove to be helpful, such as the state bankruptcy code and good legal dictionary.
4. As a pro se filer, you can pay the court filing fee in installments.
One advantage of doing the forms and filing yourself is that you may be able to pay the court filing fee in 4 separate payments. However, if you miss making the payments, your bankruptcy petition could be denied or fail to be discharged.
5. There are some terms on some of the forms that might be confusing.
Some questions on the forms could be confusing, not self evident, or not explained well in the book you bought/ borrowed. Don't guess. Look it up in an online or hardback law dictionary, or do some research in other publications.
6. The trustee may have some extra questions for you.
Your trustee (person appointed by the judge to oversee your case) is probably a bankruptcy attorney, which may or may not affect their demeanor towards you. He or she will ask you some questions about how you prepared the forms and the information you put on them. Unfortunately, they won't give you a pass if you made mistakes.
Don't go to the meeting of the creditors without your state issued picture ID and your official Social Security card.
In other words, one of these situations will mean you will have to make another appointment—and it could be a while before they can see you again.
7. A consultation with a lawyer is a excellent idea.
Even if you think you got this, you may save yourself some grief by talking to a bankruptcy attorney from a firm like Smith & Weer PC. If your situation is not pressing, they may recommend alternative solutions that you may not be aware of. If you have major assets you want to keep, they will help you decide which type of bankruptcy filing would be best. Also, if you have student loan debt and want to try to get it discharged, you should discuss having them handle that part of the case.