In my bankruptcy blogs, I’ve been emphasizing the fact that bankruptcy is a process rather than an event. One very important step in that process is the creditors’ meeting. This is a meeting that takes place within 45 days from the time a bankruptcy is filed, and it’s a meeting that’s presided over by a bankruptcy trustee appointed by the court. The meeting might be in an office or in a private room at the federal courthouse, and you attend this meeting along with your attorney. The main idea behind the creditors’ meeting, as the name implies, is to give the creditors a chance to ask you questions about the information on the bankruptcy forms you’ve turned in. In most cases, creditors don’t show up at the meeting, but they’re invited. For you, on the other hand, it’s a command performance – you’ve got to show up or your bankruptcy case can be dismissed.
As a bankruptcy lawyer in Indiana for almost twenty-five years, I’ve attended countless creditors’ meetings along with my clients. In fact, a big part of the work I do is helping folks gather all the required documents and information, fill out the forms correctly, and then go over the questions that might come up at the creditors’ meeting. Generally speaking, the bankruptcy trustee will first ask about the reasons you filed bankruptcy – was it a business failure, an illness with high medical costs, loss of a job, a divorce, or a combination of several of these factors? The trustee will ask you to verify that all your assets are listed on the forms, and will want to know how the value of those assets was determined. You’ll be asked if, within the two years before you filed, you transferred any assets to family members or friends. You’ll also probably be asked if you’re expecting any money to come in from inheritances, from a tax refund due you, or from a settlement from an accident. In short, the trustee and the creditors want to be sure that you’ve fairly represented what resources can be used towards repaying your debts. Also, the trustee will ask why you chose to file under either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13, and will be assessing your situation to see if you qualify for the form of bankruptcy you’ve selected. (As I explained in It’s Knowing Which Bankruptcy Buttons To Push, an important part of my work with clients is choosing a strategy that is most appropriate in that specific situation.)
The creditors’ meeting is only one part, but a very important part, of the process of a bankruptcy. These meetings are usually very low-key, information-gathering meetings, not anything like the confrontational trials that you see on TV shows. At the same time, remember, these meetings are part of the court system. That means you’ll be under oath when you answer the questions. (If the trustee decides you are lying, the case will be dismissed, and no debts can be discharged.)
In Why Hire An Attorney To File Bankruptcy? I explained that perhaps the most important role an attorney plays is to make sure the financial disclosure process is done correctly. In my close to 25 years of bankruptcy law practice in Indiana, I’ve worked with tens of thousands of people, and helped fill out thousands upon thousands of details on hundreds of thousands of forms. All of this is part of the process. Believe me, that process is so much smoother when things are done right from the get-go!