Everyone who files for bankruptcy must appear in court at a meeting called the “341 meeting of creditors.” The purpose of the meeting is to allow the trustee to verify the accuracy of your bankruptcy petition and schedules. The bankruptcy trustee—the person responsible for overseeing your case—will review your petition and “521 documents” (tax returns, paycheck stubs, and the like) before the meeting. At the meeting itself, the trustee will verify your identity and ask you a series of questions under oath, designed to confirm the contents of your petition and give you the opportunity to tell the trustee about any changes that have occurred since you filed your documents. Creditors have the right to ask questions about your financial affairs, as well, but rarely do. In fact, if you have a straightforward case, the entire process will likely take less than five minutes.
Preparing for the 341 Meeting of Creditors
After you file for bankruptcy, the court will mail you a notice that includes the date, time, and location of the meeting, as well as your bankruptcy case number and the name of the bankruptcy trustee. You’ll use the information in the notice to complete necessary tasks.
Make arrangements to attend the meeting. The meeting will occur approximately 21 to 40 days after your filing date. Although you can reschedule, it’s best to keep your calendar open during that period and make arrangements with your employer and childcare provider as soon as you receive the official date.
Send the 521 documents to the trustee. Bankruptcy law requires you to give the trustee documents, called “521 documents,” at least seven days before the meeting. You’ll provide the last two tax returns that you’ve filed, as well as 60 days’ worth of bank statements and paycheck stubs. Be aware that many trustees require additional documents, too. You can find more information about 521 documents by reading What Documents Do I Send to the Bankruptcy Trustee Before the 341 Meeting of Creditors in Bankruptcy? [LINK]
Complete your post-filing counseling course. All bankruptcy filers must complete a post-filing financial counseling course (you completed the pre-filing course before you filed the petition). You’ll need your bankruptcy case number in order to complete the course, and will find it in the court’s notice of the 341 hearing.
You'll learn more helpful tips in this article: How Should I Prepare for the 341 Meeting of Creditors in Bankruptcy?
Attending the 341 Meeting of Creditors
Your case won’t be the only matter heard at your scheduled time. The trustee will consider approximately ten other cases during the same hour. When the meeting starts, the trustee will take roll call, and, before calling individual cases, explain the process to the entire group. To remind you to take your bankruptcy filing seriously, the trustee will likely emphasize that the Federal Bureau of Investigation investigates bankruptcy fraud.
Next, the trustee will call each bankruptcy case. When it’s your turn, you’ll take your place at the front of the room and provide proof of your identity and Social Security number by presenting your drivers’ license and Social Security card (the trustee will accept other forms of proof, as well).
Questioning by the Trustee
After the trustee places you under oath, you’ll be asked general questions about the accuracy of your bankruptcy filing, whether any information that you previously reported has changed, and whether you’re entitled to receive any money from any source. The trustee might also ask about specific issues raised by your petition, or request additional documentation.
(To read about typical trustee questions, see What Questions Will the Bankruptcy Trustee Ask at the 341 Meeting of Creditors?)
Questioning by a Creditor
Creditors, including ex-spouses who have not received past-due support payments, have the right to appear at the meeting and ask you questions about your bankruptcy filing. Here’s a list of common reasons a creditor might attend the meeting:
- An ex-spouse wants support arrearages paid or claims that you failed to report earnings or property (the trustee must pay support arrearages before other unsecured creditors).
- A secured creditor wants to know whether you intend to return property that you pledged as collateral, such as jewelry or furniture.
- A creditor suspects that you committed fraud and wants to gather information before suing you.
Although the above list is not inclusive, it’s unnecessary to worry that a lender might unexpectedly appear at the meeting. Most people know when they have a problem on their hands. So, if you’re not aware of any issues, you probably don’t have any.
(To learn more about what happens when a creditor appears at the 341 meeting of creditors, read What Questions Will a Bankruptcy Creditor Ask at the 341 Meeting of Creditors?) [LINK]
Concluding the 341 Meeting of Creditors
Most people breeze through the 341 meeting of creditors without incident. If you do the following things (and your petition complies with bankruptcy law), it’s likely that your meeting will proceed smoothly, as well:
- carefully prepare your petition, and
- produce your 521 documents two weeks before the meeting.
Although it’s unnecessary to give your documents to the trustee early, the trustee will appreciate it—and you want the trustee to be happy. If you’re not comfortable with any of the steps outlined above or with appearing at the meeting by yourself, you should consult with a local bankruptcy attorney.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Who will send the 521 documents to the bankruptcy trustee?
- Will you go with me to the 341 meeting of creditors?
- What will happen if I can’t attend the 341 meeting of creditors?