Should I File for Bankruptcy Without an Attorney?

Many people who are considering filing bankruptcy wonder whether they can do so without an attorney. After all, this is a time when their financial situation is at an all-time low. They may not be able to imagine paying out any more money. At a time when even buying groceries seems like a stretch, it is tempting to move forward without a lawyer.

Never assume that you cannot afford an attorney. You might qualify for a pro bono attorney. Some law schools offer free legal services, and some municipalities offer legal service programs. So if you believe you need legal advice, there are ways that you get it.

The Pros of Filing Yourself

No matter which state you reside in, you can legally file bankruptcy without an attorney. If you do not own a lot of property, do not have assets, and your credit situation is fairly straightforward, you may be able to get away with filing your own bankruptcy documents. The forms are standard. You simply follow the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure. The court clerk will let you know of any schedules that have not been completed properly.

The official forms, as well as answers to bankruptcy law questions, are readily available online. It is possible to do what many concern routine paperwork by yourself. Doing so can save you $1,000 or more in retainer fees.

The Cons of Filing Yourself

Bankruptcy paperwork seems simple enough, especially since the changes to bankruptcy law in 2005. It is very tempting to do it yourself. You may feel that you have nothing to lose, or you may simply be the sort of person who often does his or her own work.

Unfortunately, there are quite a few mistakes that individuals make when filing. The biggest problem is leaving a creditor or some property off the paperwork. Leaving a creditor off of your paperwork can create huge problems. Even if you believe that kind of debt cannot be discharged, you could be mistaken.

If you intentionally leave someone off because you wish to pay back the debt you owe them, the court will not to have a complete picture of your credit obligations. It is important that the court knows everything there is to know about your case in order to help you properly assign your debt.

When property is left off the schedules, it is most often because people forget. Here are some of the more common forgotten items:

  • Retirement funds
  • Tax refunds
  • Trust funds
  • Interest in a probate estate that is pending
  • Partnership interest
  • Lawsuits that have been filed

A Caution

If you are considering filing bankruptcy without an attorney, you may have heard that you can get a paralegal or petition preparer to complete the forms for you. These people are not authorized to give legal advice. Instead, all they can do is fill out documents. If you hire a petition preparer, this individual should not answer any legal questions. Do not allow him or her to sign a document. Do not pay him or her for court fees.

Filing for bankruptcy is stressful and difficult. The decision as to whether to use an attorney should be taken very seriously. You will have many questions throughout the process, and if you error, your case could be dismissed altogether. Because of the long-term legal and financial consequences, you should strongly consider obtaining sound legal advice.