The Initial Bankruptcy Office Consultation–What I Look For

When prospective clients contact me for the first time, I like to get basic biographical information over the phone, such as address, household size, place of employment, types of debts owed and overall debt problems. By the end of the phone call, I can tell if bankruptcy might be an option. If it is, then I like to set up an office consultation.

So then, what is the consultation like and what am I looking for? I like to spend about one hour with new clients. This enables me to compile a list of all debts owed, along with income and household expenses. It’s helpful if clients bring a list of their debts and balances, because I usually do not obtain a credit report at this initial consultation. In addition to debt information, it’s essential to know all of the property that a client owns. In other words, does the client own their home or rent? If they own their home, then is there a mortgage owed or maybe a home equity loan. And besides real estate, I need to know all about bank accounts, savings plans, retirement accounts, life insurance policies, vehicles and potential legal claims.

Another part of the consultation deals with whether or not there have been any transfers of money or property to family members, friends or business associates. Those types of people are known as “insiders” in bankruptcy law. And in Pennsylvania, the bankruptcy trustees can go back four years to retrieve funds or assets that have been transferred to insiders.

Finally, I like to preview everything that happens in a typical bankruptcy case, whether it be Chapter 7 or Chapter 13. We review the basic steps: (1) the pre-bankruptcy counseling; (2) compiling all of the information for the bankruptcy petition and schedules that I prepare; (3) the actual case filing and informing the creditors, along with informing utility companies; (4) the Section 341 Meeting of Creditors, which for most bankruptcy filers, is the only “hearing” that they will ever attend. I like to preview every single question that the Court Trustee typically asks in the Meeting of Creditors; (5) completing the two-hour Financial Education class required in all Chapter 7 and 13 cases, and finally obtaining the Discharge Order. We also talk abourt specifics on re-building one’s credit rating as well.

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