Bankruptcy: Preparing to Meet with a Lawyer

By Cara O'Neill, Attorney
A bankruptcy attorney will ask you why you're considering filing for bankruptcy and determine whether filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy will help you solve your financial problem.

It’s natural to want to know what questions to expect at a bankruptcy consultation, and the first shouldn’t be surprising—you’ll be asked why you’re considering filing for bankruptcy. The attorney will want more information before deciding whether bankruptcy will solve your debt issues, however, and will use the consultation to find out about your overall financial situation. In this article, you’ll learn about the questions you’ll answer and the documents you’ll want to bring so that you’ll be well prepared for your bankruptcy meeting.

Preparing for the Attorney’s Questions

Most people show up in an attorney’s office because they need help with one of a small number of problems—and the attorney will be aware of this pattern. For instance, when a bankruptcy attorney asks you what prompted you to call, it’s likely that you’ll say that your debts are piling up and that the stress is becoming unbearable. But you could be facing one of the following situations, too, and if you are, the lawyer will want to know about it because it will require quick attention:

  • your employer received a wage garnishment
  • someone served you with a lawsuit
  • your home is in foreclosure
  • you’re facing eviction
  • a creditor took money from your bank account (levy), or
  • you’re late on your car payment and don’t want it repossessed.

After determining your primary issue, the lawyer will assess whether you’re qualified to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, by asking questions about your family size, income and assets, the type of debt you owe, and any recent purchases or property transfers. Here are a few examples:

  • Are you married? Do you have children?
  • How much money do you (and your spouse) make?
  • How much did you make in the last six months?
  • What type of debt do you owe?
  • Do you owe past-due taxes or a domestic support obligation?
  • Does a creditor have a judgment against you?
  • Do you have any assets?
  • How much are your assets worth?
  • Have you purchased or transferred property recently?
  • What do you hope to accomplish with bankruptcy?

Gathering Your Documents

Your bankruptcy petition cannot be completed without certain documents, so it’s a good idea to gather your paperwork together ahead of time and bring it to your appointment—especially if you need your bankruptcy completed quickly. Here’s your list:

  • two years of filed tax returns (the last two years that you filed)
  • seven months of bank statements and paycheck stubs
  • if you’re self-employed, the last two full years of profit and loss statements (plus the year-to-date figures)
  • current copies of your mortgage and vehicle loan statements
  • all foreclosure-related paperwork
  • a copy of your life insurance policy
  • copies of your investment and retirement statements
  • a car valuation (such as an online printout from Edmunds or Kelley Blue Book)
  • if you’re separated or divorced, a copy of your marital settlement agreement
  • a copy of your drivers’ license, and
  • a copy of your social security card.

Most lawyers will ask you to complete a lengthy bankruptcy questionnaire, as well. If you can, get it before your meeting and bring a completed copy with you.

Preparing Your Questions

It’s a good idea to write down any questions you might have and take the list to the meeting. Here are a few others to consider:

  • What bankruptcy chapter should I file?
  • Will filing for bankruptcy wipe out all of my debt?
  • Will I lose any money or property if I file?
  • Will I have a monthly payment plan, and if so, how much must I pay?
  • Who will prepare my petition and review it with me?
  • Will you or an associate go with me to the 341 meeting of creditors?
  • How much do you charge for your services?
  • What do your fees include?
  • Do you accept payments or do you require the full fee up front?

The attorney should be willing to answer all of your questions in a friendly, helpful, and unhurried manner. If you don’t feel comfortable, you might want to consult with someone else.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Do you need any additional information from me?
  • How long will it take to prepare and file my bankruptcy petition?
  • Who should I speak with if I have a question?

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