A common bankruptcy question asked by people who are considering filing a bankruptcy case is, “Will I have to go to court if I file a bankruptcy case?” Yes, you must attend at least one hearing if you file for bankruptcy relief. All debtors are required to attend the Meeting of Creditors for their case. Failing to attend the Meeting of Creditors is a reason for dismissing the case.
The Meeting of Creditors
Every debtor in a bankruptcy case must appear at a Meeting of Creditors. The implies that your creditors must also attend the hearing, but this is not true. The debtor and joint debtor are the only individuals who are required to attend the hearing. Creditors and other parties in interest may choose to attend the hearing, but it is not a requirement.
The Meeting of Creditors is an informal hearing that typically lasts about five to ten minutes. The bankruptcy trustee assigned to the case administers t hearing. The debtors are placed under oath to be questioned by the trustee. The trustee asks questions about the debtors’ financial situation, including the debtors’ income, expenses, debts, assets, and financial history. The questions are rarely a surprise because they are the same questions that the debtor had to answer when completing the bankruptcy forms.
In addition to the trustee, creditors or other parties in interest may appear at the hearing to ask questions. Most creditors don’t bother to appear at the Meeting of Creditors. Therefore, the trustee is the only person questioning the debtors. It is important to remember that the trustee is only asking you about information that is related to your financial situation and your bankruptcy case.
Tips for Preparing for The Meeting of Creditors
When preparing for the Meeting of Creditors, keep the following tips in mind:
• Read through your copy of the bankruptcy petition, schedules, and statements before the hearing and take your copies of the forms to the hearing with you.
• Arrive early to find a parking space and give yourself time to get into the courtroom or meeting room.
• Remember to have your identification with you. If you are in doubt, you can check with the trustee’s office to inquire about what types of identification are accepted.
• Check with the trustee’s office to determine what documentation you should have with you at the hearing. Some trustees require copies of the most recent pay stubs, bank statements, and other documents at the hearing.
• When answering questions, speak clearly and loudly.
• Only answer the questions that are asked. Never lie under oath but don’t volunteer information. Wait for the trustee to ask you for the information.
• Dress appropriately. You don’t need to wear a suit, but you do need to dress in clothes suitable for a courtroom (i.e. no flip-flops, short-shorts, tank tops, etc.).
• If you don’t understand a question, ask for clearance. Never assume you understand what the trustee is asking for if the question is vague.
One of the most important things to remember about the Meeting of Creditors is that everyone is there for the same reason as you are there. In most cases, the courtroom or hearing room will be full of other people. Those people are debtors just like you, attorneys, or creditors. It is natural to be nervous when testifying in an open courtroom. However, try to remember that the other debtors in the courtroom are probably just as nervous as you are about testifying. In most cases, they are probably thinking about their hearing more than what you are saying.
Another tip that can be very helpful is to arrive early enough to watch a few hearings before your case is called. The trustee asks the same standard questions in every case before he begins asking questions specific to the case. Arriving early enough to watch a few hearings will give you an idea of the questions you will be answering. This can go a long way in calming your nerves and making your first Meeting of Creditors a much less traumatic experience for you.
Is the First Meeting of Creditors My Only Bankruptcy Hearing?
In most Chapter 7 cases, the Meeting of Creditors is the only bankruptcy hearing you will attend in your case. For Chapter 13 debtors, they may also be required to attend a Confirmation Hearing. If you file motions or other interested parties file motions, you may be required to attend those hearings. However, whether motions are required in your case depend on the specific facts and circumstances involved in your bankruptcy case.