Wondering what you should bring to your first consultation with a bankruptcy lawyer? Our very own Thomas Lovett, an experience Valdosta bankruptcy attorney, explains exactly what those are and why they are so important to the process.
Perhaps your employer reduced your hours, or you were laid off because of COVID-19 and you’re not able to pay bills that you were able to manage before reduction or loss of income; or you had a medical emergency that caused you to fall behind on your car payment and you’re not sure you can catch up without some help. You may be considering whether a bankruptcy case could help but need to speak with a bankruptcy attorney so you can get the full picture.
You’ve searched for bankruptcy attorneys in your area and found one with good reviews, so you contact them and schedule a consultation. You want to get the most out of your consultation with the attorney, but aren’t sure what items or information you should bring. There are 5 things to bring to your consultation to make the most out of your appointment: 1) information about previous bankruptcy cases you filed; 2) list of all your debts; 3) information about your income over the past 6 months; 4) your last filed tax return; and 5) details about any transfers of money, property or gifts you have made in the last 4 years. Below, I explain each of these items to help you understand their significance and how they can improve your consultation.
1. Information about any previous bankruptcy cases you have filed
If you filed for bankruptcy in the past eight (8) years, you should have information about that previous bankruptcy case ready for your consultation with a bankruptcy attorney. First the bankruptcy attorney will need to know the date your previous case was filed. Second, the attorney will need to know which chapter the case was filed under – was it a chapter 7, chapter 11, chapter 12 or chapter 13? Third, the attorney will need to know which state the case was filed in. Fourth, the attorney will need to know what the disposition of the case was – did you receive a discharge or was the case dismissed? If you have filed more than one previous bankruptcy in the past eight (8) years, do your best to get all these details for each case.
The answers to these questions will quickly help the bankruptcy attorney to identify whether you qualify to file a new bankruptcy case.
2. List of all your debts
First, most attorneys prefer a bankruptcy-specific credit report. Bankruptcy attorneys do this for two reasons: 1) the credit report is generally a complete and accurate list of all the debts you owe, and will provide other valuable information, like whether any accounts have a co-borrower; and 2) the electronic copy of that credit report can be used with bankruptcy petition software to import that information. This will save your attorney time and reduce the chance of mistakes in reporting creditor names or addresses in your bankruptcy petition.
Even though you may have a credit report it is still wise to make a list of all the debts that you owe. Sometimes, creditors do not report their accounts to the credit reporting agencies. If you owe a debt to one of these creditors, they will not show up on your credit report. When making a list of all your debts, make sure to include every credit card, charge account, personal loan, car loan, mortgage loan that you owe. Debts include judgments against you. If someone has sued you and obtained a judgment against you, make sure to include them on the list as well. Once you list every creditor that you owe, see if you can find the last statement or bill you received from that creditor and attach it to your list. If any creditors are represented by an attorney and you have received correspondence from that attorney’s office, bring that also. All these things will supplement the credit report. Cross-referencing these documents can be useful to identify creditors that you may have forgotten about or creditors that have sold their accounts to a different creditor or a collection agency.
3. Information about your income over the past 6 months
One of the most important things a bankruptcy attorney needs to know before he can advise you is your income, from all combined sources, over the past six (6) months. What the bankruptcy attorney is looking at is whether your income over the past six (6) months exceeds the median income set by the U.S. Trustee’s office for your district. Income to be evaluated includes income of your spouse if you are married and live in the same household. If that applies to you, be prepared to have your spouse’s income information available for the bankruptcy attorney to review also. If you work, it is best to bring your pay advices for every pay period from the past six (6) months (and your spouse’s too, if necessary). If you work but don’t receive pay checks and pay stubs, you should call and speak to the bankruptcy attorney’s office to discuss the best way to show your income. If you receive a fixed income amount, like social security retirement or disability, make sure you can identify exactly how much it is you receive each month and whether it has increased or decreased at any time over the past six (6) months. And remember, income includes all sources like food stamps, child support, lottery winnings, scratch-off ticket prizes, government assistance, etc.
4. Your last filed tax return
If you were required to file a tax return for any one of the last four (4) years, make sure you bring a copy of your last filed tax return. There is important information on your tax return that may affect your bankruptcy case. If you file bankruptcy, your bankruptcy trustee will require you to provide a copy of your tax return and will certainly review it. It is best to let the bankruptcy attorney review it at your consultation to see if there are any issues that need to be addressed before filing a bankruptcy case. For instance, your tax return may show that you owe taxes. The amount of tax debt shown on your return must be listed on your bankruptcy petition. This will be the best source of information for a bankruptcy attorney to use for listing that tax debt in your case. If you were not required to file a tax return at any time during the last four (4) years, then this item does not apply to you.
5. Details about any transfers of money, property or gifts you have made in the last 4 years
When you have a consultation with a bankruptcy attorney, it is important to disclose transfers of property or gifts you have made in the past four (4) years with a value of more than $500. For any transfer or gift, you should provide 1) the date of the transfer or gift, 2) a description of the item or property, or the amount of money transferred, 3) the value of the item or property you transferred, 4) the identity of the person who received the transfer or gift, 5) a description of anything you received in exchange for the transfer and 6) the reason for the transfer or gift.
Here’s an example: you transferred the title to a truck to your brother-in-law. You need to provide the date you signed the title over to him, identify the year make and model of the truck, the value of the truck (if you don’t know the value, the attorney can search for value in NADA or Kelley Blue Book based on the vehicle description), your brother-in-law’s name and address and whether he gave you any money or property in exchange for transferring the title to him (if he did, identify what he gave you).
Having this information ready when you meet with a bankruptcy attorney can prevent confusion and help the attorney understand your financial history to better advise you on filing bankruptcy.
We’re here to help put your mind at ease. Contact Kelley, Lovett, Blakey & Sanders at 1-800-371-4188 or fill out the easy-to-use contact form on our website. With over 30 years of experience and three locations across Georgia, we are the experts in strategically guiding you toward financial freedom.