The hard work of filing for bankruptcy is just getting your bankruptcy papers ready for filing. The filing is done electronically with the push of a button over the internet. However there is much more to your case, and you should be aware of what happens after the filing.
When the papers are filed with the court, the court assigns a case number. This is an important number to you because you will want to give it to any creditors that may call. When you tell creditors that you are going to file for bankruptcy, they will usually leave you alone, but they don’t have to. Once you do file, they must leave you alone or they will have to answer to the bankruptcy court itself. This is part of what is known as the automatic stay, which prevents creditors from taking any action against you once the bankruptcy case is filed. If you give them a case number, they will know you have actually filed and you will not hear from them again.
Within a few hours of your filing, your case will be assigned to a judge and a trustee. The trustee is a lawyer appointed by the bankruptcy court to administer your case. In addition to assigning a trustee, the court will also set a date for your court appearance about 4 to 5 weeks after the filing. This is called a creditors meeting. Your creditors receive notice of your filing and can come on this court date and ask you questions. While this may seem scary, creditors almost never show up at creditors meetings. The meeting is conducted by the trustee, who asks all the questions.
Once the case is filed, your attorney will send copies of your papers to the trustee. If you have any property, he will also send appraisals or other valuations of your property to the trustee. He may also write to any marshal or sheriff that may be garnishing your salary, and will also let any attorneys who may be suing you know about the filing. Any garnishments or lawsuits will immediately stop.
The creditors meeting will be scheduled for a specific time, but you should know that the trustees often get behind and you should be prepared to wait. Unless your case is scheduled for very early in the morning, you should take the entire day off from work and make arrangements for your children because there are often days when you may be at the courthouse a long time.
You must bring your social security card and government-issued picture identification to the hearing. The trustee will ask for these items. If you cannot find your social security card, you can go to the Social Security Administration and ask for a replacement. While you are there, ask them to issue a letter to verify your social security number. They will do this for you, but you have to ask. This can be brought to the hearing if your new social security card does not arrive in time. The usual government-issued picture identification that is brought to the hearing is a drivers license or a non-drivers license. Military ID is also acceptable. We recommend against bringing passports even though they are acceptable because the trustee will look through the passport and ask how you were able to pay for any trips that the passport reveals.
You also must read a document called the Bankruptcy Information Sheet before you are questioned. Your attorney should give you a copy when you get to court.
The trustee’s job is to make sure your case was filed properly, that all of the necessary papers were filed, and to see if there are any assets that are not exempt that he should take control of and sell for the benefit of your creditors. He will also ask you a series of questions to see if there are any assets that you may not have properly listed in your papers. If your papers were done correctly, you should have no trouble answering the trustee’s questions.
This is not a prosecutorial type of questioning, but there are some things he must ask. You must always tell the truth at this hearing, because not doing so could cause your case to be dismissed and could subject you to criminal penalties. If there is anything unusual in your case, your attorney will have gone over how to answer the questions with you. One thing you can do to help you answer the questions is to sit in the actual hearing room and listen to how the trustee questions other people because they usually ask the same questions of everyone.
Once the trustee has completed the questioning in your case he will often say that he is closing the meeting. This means that he is satisfied with your case and you do not have to come back for another hearing. Sometimes the trustee will instead adjourn your case. This can happen if he wants some documents from you or your attorney. When cases are adjourned, you usually do not have to go back, but you should make sure your second appearance is not required. In most cases, the meeting is closed and there are no assets for the trustee to administer, and the trustee will file a no-asset report with the court.
Unless there is some type of objection to your case, an extremely rare occurrence, you will be entitled to a discharge in 60 days. When the 60 days are up, the court will issue a discharge, which will be mailed to you and all of your creditors. Remember, that in order to get your discharge there is one more counseling session that you must complete, which is like the counseling you did before you filed. This second counseling session must be completed within 45 days of your first court date, but can be done any time after the petition is first filed. Your attorney will arrange this for you.
Once you receive your discharge, you will now have a fresh start on your financial life. You should not hear from any of your creditors ever again.
Allan Bloomfield practices bankruptcy law in Forest Hills, Queens. Contact Allan today for a free consultation.