Do I need to use a bankruptcy attorney?

One of the most common questions debtors ask is whether or not they can file bankruptcy on their own without a bankruptcy lawyer. Yes, an individual can file bankruptcy on their own or "pro se," but this is only recommended if you understand the bankruptcy process, including the numerous forms which must be completed, and have enough time to accurately complete the process. Ignorance will not be a sufficient justification for making mistakes in the bankruptcy filing process.

If you choose to file bankruptcy on your own you will want to review the process and procedures on the United States Bankruptcy Court website (http://www.uscourts.gov/FederalCourts.aspx). Review the entire website including the section under Bankruptcy Courts, specifically the section title Bankruptcy Basics. This website will provide an overview of each available bankruptcy and electronic forms which you can download and complete.

Completing the forms - The most complicated step for filing bankruptcy on your own will undoubtedly be completing the bankruptcy forms. It is critical you list all property and debts on your bankruptcy schedules. If a debt is not listed, it is possible the debt will not be discharged. Another issue is bankruptcy fraud. Be very careful that you provide accurate information. Hiding or destroying property, lying on documents, or falsifying records is considered a serious crime. If the government decides you have been dishonest, they may not only choose to throw out your case, you could be charged with a crime.

Next, make sure you understand the rules of the bankruptcy court, the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure, and the rules of the court in which your bankruptcy case is filed. If you have questions about the court’s process, review the following website for more information: http://www.uscourts.gov/FederalCourts/Bankruptcy/BankruptcyResources.aspx

Getting legal help for free - Most debtors would love to hire a lawyer but simply do not feel like they have the money. So what do you do if you cannot afford to hire a lawyer? Some debtors wonder if there are lawyers who will work for free or groups that offer lower priced legal services.

The truth is no one really wants to work for free. Some lawyers may do pro bono work, but it generally does not include bankruptcy cases. One option is to contact certain law schools who might offer legal clinics or offer free legal services. Other debtors have had some luck hiring someone who is not a lawyer to prepare the bankruptcy documents for them, although if you choose this option keep in mind these individuals are not lawyers and are not supposed to provide legal services, including answering legal questions. They also will not be allowed to "represent" you in bankruptcy court.

The bottom line - if you have a complicated bankruptcy case with assets you will need to hire a bankruptcy lawyer. If you have a simple Chapter 7 no-asset bankruptcy case you might be able to file on your own bankruptcy without legal help from a bankruptcy attorney.

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