Being a do-it-yourselfer is a great thing when it comes to home improvement, fixing your car and cutting your kids' hair. If you're considering filing a bankruptcy case yourself, though, think twice.
They are just forms, how hard can it be? Paralegals can prepare my bankruptcy for $200, why should I pay an attorney? My case is simple, so what does it matter? I've been asked all of these questions, and have also heard the following from people who decided not to hire a lawyer: The trustee wants to dismiss my case. The court just told my auto lender they can take my car. The trustee wants me to pay how much to my creditors? They want to auction my stuff.
Bankruptcy is a complex area of law, filled with intricacies that are confusing and illogical at times. What you do before filing a bankruptcy case is crucial to the success of the case, but most people don't realize what can hurt or help them.
One of our Chapter 7 trustees explains before his hearings that when you consider bankruptcy, you will talk to your friends and relatives about your situation. Inevitably someone will claim to know everything there is to know about bankruptcy and want to tell you all about it. A lot of the information they give you is going to be "flat out wrong," he says. And he's right. Even people who have been through the process may not fully understand what happened during the process or the significance of the information they provided in their forms or in their testimony.
There can be dire consequences for taking action on the mistaken advice of a friend or relative. You risk losing assets that could have been protected. You risk having your family members sued by the trustee if you paid them back before your bankruptcy. You risk losing tax refunds, insurance proceeds and money in your bank account if you don't know the importance of timing.
The Bankruptcy Code and state law allow non-attorney document preparers to fill out your forms for no more than $200. Remember, these individuals are not licensed to practice law and are not attorneys. They are not permitted to give you legal advice, and if they do give you advice, they are violating the law.
Your best bet is to seek out an experienced bankruptcy attorney to give you the advice you need to protect yourself and get the most benefit from your bankruptcy. It is the attorney's job to make sure you do not end up with any surprises in your case. When you think of the amount of debt a bankruptcy done properly can discharge, isn't it worth the investment to hire someone you trust will do the job right?
Denise K. Aguilar is an attorney whose bankruptcy practice is located in Ahwatukee Foothills. Reach her at (480) 455-1881 or www.aguilarlawonline.com.