If you needed surgery, would you operate on yourself, or leave it to a doctor?
The simple fact of the matter is that filing bankruptcy pro-se, the legal term for someone who is representing himself, is extremely difficult. In fact, it has been said that 8 out of 10 Chapter 7 petitions are dismissed for failure to properly fill out the bankruptcy schedules. When it comes to Chapter 13, I have NEVER seen a person successfully get a plan confirmed and receive a discharge without the help of an attorney.
The Means Test
The means test is a very complicated “test” of sorts that determined your eligibility to file bankruptcy under Chapter 7. This was added to the code in 2005, along with a slew of other amendments, that made filing Chapter 7 extremely difficult without the help of an attorney. There are many pitfalls for the novice lawyer, let alone a layperson with no legal experience. If you take the wrong deductions or do not do the complicated math correctly, your case will probably be dismissed.
The Intersection of State and Federal Law – or How to Protect Your Stuff
During your first Meeting of Creditors, the Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 trustee will likely ask you to cite the appropriate Georgia code section for each exemption you have taken on property you wish to keep. Blank, uncomfortable stares are usually the product of this question. If you do not take the correct exemption, which are state law rights to keep certain property during and after your bankruptcy case, the trustee can and absolutely will take and sell that property for the benefit of your creditors. This meeting is stressful enough as it is, but it is painful to watch a pro-se debtor being asked legal questions that they have no idea how to answer.
When you first come to meet the trustee, you will need to bring certain documents pursuant to the Local Rules for the Northern District of Georgia. Failure to bring these documents will result in the trustee refusing to examine you. The trustee could continue your hearing or simply ask the court to dismiss your case.
Determine Whether Chapter 13 or 7 is Right for You
A person’s income, assets, amount of equity, and income will determine whether they need to file a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13. Depending on all these factors, choosing the wrong chapter to file under could be catastrophic. For instance, if you file a Chapter 7 and take the wrong exemptions, you will find yourself in hot water with the trustee who will want to sell any assets you did not properly protect. That’s the point where you will want to dismiss your case, but at that point, you can’t.
Invest in a Good Lawyer
Regardless of who you hire to represent you in filing bankruptcy, I highly recommend investing in a knowledgeable attorney in your area. Paying $1,800 to make sure that $50,000 is wiped out is a small price to pay.