What Information Do I Need?

One of the strengths of my practice and something my clients tell me over and over that they appreciate is the personal attention which I devote to them and their cases. I personally interview and advise each and every one of my clients and obtain all necessary information from them-I do not rely on paralegals or secretaries to perform this critical function. I am committed to this approach because I find that, not only do my clients feel more comfortable, it also significantly reduces the risk that errors will be present in the documents filed with the bankruptcy court, with the result of a potentially unpleasant and costly surprise.

In order for me to adequately assess your situation, I need for you to provide me with certain information prior to or at the time of our initial consultation. This consultation can be accomplished by telephone or even by e-mail. In fact, this is often the preferred method of my clients, and it may be the most efficient way to determine if you are eligible for bankruptcy and under what Chapter you should file. Of course, if you prefer an office consultation, I am happy to arrange this also. You do not need an appointment to call me for an interview, although if I am busy or not in the office, we may need to schedule a more definite time to discuss your situation.

Whatever the forum of our initial meeting, you need to have as much information as you can about your situation. On the Bankruptcy Questionnaire, you can find various forms which you can use to organize the information we need to prepare for filing the necessary documents with the court. It will be very helpful for you and me for you to fill in these forms, print them out and then send them to me. If possible, I would like the opportunity to review these forms before our meeting. You should have the following available for our conference:

  • A compilation of your income for the previous six months . This is most important. This in part determines, among other things, whether or not you can file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy and, if you file a Chapter 13, whether you can limit the Chapter 13 Plan term to 36 months or whether you are required to go out to 60 months. If you contemplate filing in, for example, the month of November, you should compile income information for the months of October back through May. Please note that income is broadly defined in the bankruptcy code. It includes all funds that you have received, except for Social Security, payments to victims of war crimes and victims of international terrorism.
  • The balances and types of all of your debts (i.e., credit card, loans, secured, unsecured, etc.) and the status and history of your payments on each debt (when you last made a payment, are you current, etc.).To assist you in compiling this information, I have provided a form containing a listing of creditors which is accessible on the Bankruptcy Questionnaire.
  • When you last incurred any of the above debts and what you used the funds for.
  • The value of your assets . An asset is any property that you own (by yourself or with other people) or have a right to own. The definition includes the usual kinds of property that many of us have (vehicles, real estate, money in bank accounts, etc.), and it also means property such as retirement funds, inheritance rights (even if the succession has not been opened) and interests in businesses (corporations, partnerships, etc.).

    Regarding any real estate that you own, depending on when the property was purchased, the extent of improvements made to the property and appreciation of real estate generally, this value may be hard for you to determine. The best method for arriving at a value is an appraisal, but this will cost several hundred dollars. Alternatively, you can obtain a "broker's price opinion", which basically is a statement of the value of the property by a real estate agent familiar with the area where the property is located. Also, if property in the neighborhood has sold recently and your property is similar in size and condition, you might be able to use this as a benchmark.

    For vehicles, you can consult the Kelley Blue Book or the NADA Guide, at least initially. Whether or not you need to obtain an appraisal is a question you should discuss with your attorney.

    Again, on the Bankruptcy Questionnaire, you can find a form containing the various categories of property which you can use to organize the information we need to prepare the for filing the necessary documents with the court. It will be very helpful for you and me for you to fill in this and other forms, print them out and then send them to me. If possible, I would like the opportunity to review these forms before our meeting.

  • Your estimated monthly income and expenses . As with the information concerning your creditors and your income and expenses, on the Bankruptcy Questionnaire you will see a link to the form in which you can provide income and expense information. The categories in this form track those which are in the actual documents filed with the court. For this reason, I strongly suggest that you use the form as a guide to providing this information. Of course, this is not mandatory for the consultation, but will assist both of us in my making an accurate determination of your best course of action.

We will thoroughly discuss the above information in detail. I will ask you the following specific questions:

  • Do you own real estate? If so, what is the current fair market value of the property? What are the amounts and priority of mortgages, liens, and other encumbrances against the property?
  • Do you have any items of extraordinary value, such as expensive artwork, jewelry, collectibles, luxury cars, etc.
  • Does anyone owe you money?
  • Do you have a potential lawsuit against anyone (or an existing lawsuit)?
  • Do you have any retirement accounts or pensions? If so, what type and how much is in them? Are you able to pull the funds out, or are you prevented from doing so until retirement?
  • What is the value of your vehicles and, if you have loans on these vehicles, how much do you owe against each one?
  • Are both of your parents still alive? If not, did the deceased parent or parents own any real estate at the time of death?
  • Do you own any interests in any corporations or partnerships or other businesses?

If you have all of this information our initial consultation will go very efficiently and I will be able to adequately advise you. Actually, if you can e-mail or fax the information to me prior to our conference, this will allow me to assess your situation in advance.

I invite you to contact me if you have questions regarding compiling the information we need.

Nothing contained herein should be construed to constitute advice for your personal situation. Furthermore, this is intended as a peripheral glance at the various options available, but by no means is this a comprehensive or exhaustive analysis of the bankruptcy laws. Whether or not you should file a bankruptcy, will vary depending on your personal situation. This decision should only be undertaken after careful consideration and analysis, and after consultation with a professional.