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Do I Need a Lawyer to File for Bankruptcy?

I’ve taken over a number of cases where a debtor prepared and filed the various bankruptcy documents without the help of an attorney–what is called filing pro se or pro per. Apart from the fact that the schedules generally have to be completely redone (the exemptions are usually wrong, debts are not listed, assets are not listed or are listed or valued incorrectly, the Means Test uses the wrong figures, the Statement of Financial Affairs is incorrect, and the budget is generally wrong), a number of these people lost their homes as a result of not being advised about what was required, how the process worked, how to value assets, how to deal with various types of debts, etc.–something an attorney is required to do.

Others ran into severe problems at the Meeting of Creditors, where they have no one to turn to for preparation or advice, Generally, pro se debtors don’t know what the Trustee is looking for, or how to properly deal with the Trustee’s questions and concerns. One ended up being charged with bankruptcy fraud–all because she didn’t understand the effects of what the information put in their schedules meant.

Finally, under the new bankruptcy law, there are a number of new deadlines that, if missed, can result in the automatic dismissal of your case, and a potentially very complex means test computation. Many bankruptcy attorneys are no longer practicing in this area of law as a result of the changes.

Bankruptcy is a very tricky area of the law (even to attorneys who don’t regularly practice it). Interestingly enough for a federal system, it is very state and locality specific. What will work in California, for example, probably won’t fly here in Maryland.

Do yourself a big favor—see a lawyer.

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