Filing a pro se bankruptcy case is a bad idea – Don’t roll the dice!
For those of you who don’t know, pro se means that you file the case without the assistance of a bankruptcy attorney. When you file a bankruptcy case by yourself, you are held to the same standards as an attorney. “I didn’t know” won’t save your case and it won’t save you from being charged for perjury. Bankruptcy is a complicated process and if you think its just filling out some paper and then appearing for court, you are headed for trouble.
A story from my practice in Rome, Georgia
Today at the 341 Meeting of Creditors in Rome Georgia, I decided to stick around watch a pro se hearing. It is usually educated cheap people who try file bankruptcy without an attorney. Before this hearing started, I wondered to myself how this case would blow up. Then, the questioning began.
The trouble for this pro se case began when the chapter 7 trustee asked, “do you have items for sale on craigslist?” “Yes.” replied the pro se debtor.
“Why didn’t you list them in your bankruptcy petition?” replied the trustee.
“Because they really don’t belong to me.” replied pro se debtor.
“Do you have a paypal account?” asked the trustee. “Yes.” replied the pro se debtor. “How much money is this account right now.” “Four thousand dollars but its not really mine. Its my boyfriends money” replied the pro se debtor. “Whose name is on the account?” the trustee asked. “Only mine” replied the debtor.
This pro se debtor thought she was saving money by filing the case by herself. Now, she is going to lose $4,000 because she didn’t realize that the chapter 7 trustee can go after your Pay Pal account.
Meet with a qualified attorney
Some people should not file Chapter 7 but should file Chapter 13 instead. Meeting with a qualified bankruptcy attorney will put you in the right direction. In addition to losing money, this pro se debtor will lose lots of time at work because the hearing was reset since she did not fill out the petition correctly. Not only will she pay the $4000 to the trustee, but this pro se debtor will miss a few days of work trying to get her paperwork fixed and appearing at various hearings. I’ve personally seen situations where a pro se debtor was fired from their job because they kept missing work to attend various hearings on why their bankruptcy petition was messed up. Save yourself from a lot of heartache and pain. Don’t try to do it by yourself.
This post originally appeared on NBF in 2011, but we feel it still has value for our readers.
Rob Cohen, the Managing Partner of Cohen & Cohen P.C., is a bankruptcy attorney that practices in Colorado and Wyoming. He serves as a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Panel Trustee, and has to date administered over 8,000 Chapter 7 bankruptcy estates. Rob is a Certified Consumer Bankruptcy Specialist, and was nominated for Denver Business Journal’s 40 under 40 in both 2014 and 2016.