Can I file bankruptcy without a lawyer?
There's a difficult, technical road ahead for debtors who file their own bankruptcy
Debtors who are considering filing bankruptcy without the help of an attorney must balance the legal technicalities they will need to master against the money they will save on lawyer's fees.
While it is possible for individuals to file a petition in U.S. Bankruptcy Court on behalf of themselves, a "pro se" case - the term used to describe people who represent themselves in a legal matter - is not allowed for corporations or partnerships under the bankruptcy code.
Often, individuals in serious financial straits will file their own case to save money. According to the U.S. Courts website, a fee of $299 is charged to file a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, the most common form of personal bankruptcy. The charge to file a Chapter 13 case is $274. Generally, lawyers' fees for personal bankruptcy cases can range from $1,000 to $2,500, in addition to court fees.
Generally, it's easier for an individual to file a Chapter 7 case, in which major properties such as a house or car are usually exempt, but other assets must be liquidated to pay creditors. In a Chapter 13 action, people who represent themselves would be faced with negotiating the requirements of a court-ordered plan to repay some of their debt.
In both types of bankruptcy, the debtor must gather whatever documents outline their financial situation – income, expenses, unpaid bills and papers related to the status of their property and other assets.
"You could lose valuable property or rights if you don't know what to do or not do," states LawHelp.org. "The people at the bankruptcy court are not allowed to advise or help you with your case."
During the required 341 meeting when the debtor appears in a brief hearing, the trustee will likely point out what is missing from the filing, but that is all. As part of their case, debtors must also obtain credit counseling from an approved provider within 180 days before filing their cases and file a certificate that the counseling course - which can be done online - has been completed.
"The court will expect you to follow the same rules and procedures that an attorney must follow. The [trustee] in your case may not do anything to give any appearance of being partial to either side and this includes giving legal advice," according to the website for the 6th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida.
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