Filing for Bankruptcy Without a Lawyer

do-it-yourselfCan I file a case on my own, without hiring a bankruptcy attorney?

Yes, you can. But the more important question is, should you?

Bankruptcy might not be rocket science, but it is major surgery for your finances. If you needed to have a cancerous tumor removed, you wouldn’t consider doing it yourself. Instead, you’d seek treatment from a trained, licensed, and experienced physician.

Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should

The 2005 changes to the Bankruptcy Code require me to give some written information to potential clients when they have a consultation with me. In one of these documents, the federal court system warns:

You are cautioned that bankruptcy law is complicated and not easily described. Thus, you may wish to seek the advice of an attorney to learn of your rights and responsibilities should you decide to file a petition.

I’d say that’s an understatement. I often get phone calls from people who prepared and filed their own bankruptcy, and now they need help “fixing” the case. While they thought they were saving money, it’s often more expensive to fix an already-filed bankruptcy than it is to have a lawyer work up the case from scratch. Even worse, some self-prepared bankruptcies can’t be salvaged, which means a lot of time and effort has been wasted.

Bankruptcy Is More than Filling out Forms

Some people incorrectly think filing for bankruptcy is simply filling out forms. Yes, there are forms involved — lots of them, in fact — but the process involves much more than just blindly filling them out. When you hire a lawyer to handle your bankruptcy, you’re paying for “the knowledge and experience that goes into knowing how, why and when to complete those forms.” You’re paying for representation in front of the bankruptcy trustee and, if necessary, the judge. Perhaps most importantly, you’re paying for guidance from an experienced professional who knows what it takes, from the initial filing through case closing, to achieve your goal of getting out of debt.

Hiring a Bankruptcy Attorney Is Money Well Spent

The cost of hiring a bankruptcy lawyer is usually much, much less than the amount of debt that gets discharged in a successful filing. One mistake could result in your case being thrown out of court, the loss of your assets, or worse. When the stakes are this high, it’s penny wise and pound foolish to take your chances with a do-it-yourself bankruptcy.

Matt Conrad is an Indianapolis bankruptcy attorney and the founder of Conrad Legal LLC, which helps people in Central Indiana get out of debt with Chapter 7 and Chapter 13.

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