A Guide to understanding your Bankruptcy Court Hearing in the Middle District of Georgia, Valdosta & Albany Divisions.
1. Why do I have to go to a hearing?
The Bankruptcy Code (11 U.S.C. §341) requires that everyone who files for bankruptcy protection attend a Meeting of Creditors, which is sometimes called a 341 Hearing. The purpose of the Meeting of Creditors is to allow the Trustee appointed to your bankruptcy to ask you questions related to your financial situation and the documents filed in your case. It is also an opportunity for your creditors to appear and ask you questions regarding your bankruptcy so that they can determine if they need to protect their rights. Clients often have the mistaken idea that the hearing is conducted by their Bankruptcy Judge, which it is not. The hearing is conducted by a Trustee or a staff attorney from within the Trustee’s office. Typically, the hearing takes 5 to 10 mins. Failure to attend the Meeting of Creditors can result in the Dismissal of your case.
2. What do I need to bring with me?
2.1 Bring a picture ID
At the hearing, you are required to prove that you are the person who filed the bankruptcy petition so you must bring a picture ID such as a driver’s license or military ID.
2.2 Bring your Social Security Card
You must be able to prove that the social security number listed on your bankruptcy is true and correct, so bring your social security card with you.
3. What do I need to remember?
3.1 Be honest
At the hearing, your Trustee shall administer an oath upon you where you swear to tell the truth. You are allowed to affirm if, for religious reasons, you are unable to swear. Remember, your testimony at the hearing is under a penalty of perjury so be truthful and honest at all times.
3.2 Speak up
The Trustee will be recording what you say so be sure to speak in a clear voice that can be picked up by the recording device. If you are appearing in a joint case with your spouse, it is often a good idea to have the person with the quieter voice sit closest to the Trustee so that their answers can be heard and properly recorded.
3.3 Answer “Yes” or “No”
The Trustee will have reviewed the documents filed in your case prior to the hearing and will have a list of prepared questions for you. Most of these questions are easily answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” If your Trustee or your attorney would like you to answer a question in greater detail they will ask you to do so. If your attorney interrupts you at any point, please stop your answer and remain silent until she/he advises you to continue. Do not attempt to volunteer additional information or ask the Trustee questions as this will result in further questioning by the Trustee. If you have additional questions, your attorney can speak with you outside the hearing room after the Meeting of Creditors has been concluded.
4. What questions will I be asked in a Chapter 13 case?
In a Chapter 13 case, the Trustee will mainly be interesting in asking you about your budget, income, assets, and verifying that the documents filed in your case are true and correct. Typical questions will include:
- Please state your name and mailing address.
- Did you provide your attorney with the information contained in your petition, schedules, and related documents?
- Did you review the information in your documents with your attorney?
- Is the information contained in your documents true and correct?
- Did your attorney explain to you that you signed these documents under a penalty of perjury?
- Are there any errors or changes to the documents that you need to tell us about?
- Did you read the information sheet provided by the Office of the U.S. Trustee?
- Are you still working at the same job and is your income still the same?
- Are you currently under a court order to pay alimony or child support?
- The Trustee will then ask you about some of your assets to clarify the information.
- The Trustee will then ask if there are any creditors present who would like to ask questions.
- The Trustee will then ask your attorney if she/he has any announcements they would like to make. Then the Trustee will excuse you from the hearing and you may leave.
5. What questions will I be asked in a Chapter 7 case?
The role of the Chapter 7 Trustee is different, therefore the questions you will be asked will differ slightly. Remember, the Chapter 7 Trustee is focused on finding assets that they may liquidate to pay your creditors.
- Expect to be asked all of the Chapter 13 questions shown above.
- Do you own or have you ever owned any interest in real estate? If so, what happened to it?
- Do you have lawsuits or claims that are currently pending or that you could bring against someone, like a personal injury or a slip-and-fall case?
- Do you have any other attorneys other than your bankruptcy attorney currently representing you?
- Do you have any rainy day money or “put back” money that you are saving?
- Have you transferred a balance on a credit card recently?
- Have you transferred any of your assets out of your name in the last several years?
- Do you have any rights to collect under a will, trust, or inheritance?
- Do you have any heir property?
- Have you paid any of your creditors or family members a large sum of money, let’s say over $600, for a loan or debt recently?
- Have you taken any money out of a 401k or IRA?
- If you have a business of any kind, expect further detailed questions as to the nature of the business, your ownership interest, the business assets, and tax returns.
6. Is that it?
“Is that it?” is the most common question I hear after a Meeting of Creditors. The hearing is very quick in the Middle District of Georgia, and most clients are surprised by this. After the hearing is complete and you have been excused by the Trustee, you are free to leave. If you have questions for your attorney about the hearing or about your bankruptcy, you should speak with her/him outside the hearing room.
Here are a few other quick thoughts and tips you should consider:
- The Chapter 13 Trustee will send you a booklet about bankruptcy. Please read it, as it will answer many of your basic questions.
- The Trustee is not going to mistreat you or be rude at the Meeting of Creditors. If you should say something that they do not agree with, they will file an objection after the hearing is completed.
- Objections are heard by the Bankruptcy Court Judge at a later date, which you will receive notice of in advance. Be sure to check with your attorney, as most objections are resolved by your attorney prior to a second hearing.
- If a creditor shows up, they are allowed to ask you basic questions. Your Trustee does not have the authority to resolve disputes between you and a creditor.
- Creditors rarely attend the Meeting of Creditors. They are not required to attend the hearing.
- The questions you are asked are not “trick questions.” Answer them truthfully and honestly and with a “yes” or “no” answer if at all possible.
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