Led by firm principal Samantha L. Dammer, we assist individuals and businesses with Chapter 7, Chapter 11, and Chapter 13 bankruptcies. Sometimes, declaring bankruptcy and obtaining a fresh financial start is the best solution. However, we are committed to working with you and your particular case to be able to find the best possible solution. In many cases, a bankruptcy alternative such as a short sale, deed in lieu of foreclosure, loan restructuring, or a debt settlement is a better solution and we will explore all available methods to assist you with your finances before you make a decision. For more information, please see our bankruptcy and foreclosure defense page..
What to Expect at a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy 341 Trustee's Meeting
The 341 Trustee's Meeting of Creditors is the sole opportunity for the Bankruptcy Trustee, who represents your unsecured creditors, to seek and discover non-exempt assets. The Trustee's job is to ask you questions and investigate your estate as appropriate in order to find any assets that might be liquidated for the benefit of the creditors. Your creditors are allowed to attend this meeting, but they rarely if ever do. The meeting is held in one of three informal hearing rooms at the Timberlake Center downtown at 501 Polk Street. There is convenient parking on Cass St. which is one block south and the cost is $4.00.
Approximately between two (2) to three (3) weeks before the 341 Trustee's Meeting your most current documents (bank statements, paystubs, vehicle registrations, etc.) will be requested, these are the necessary documents that I am required to send to the Trustee within a certain amount of time prior to the hearing. It is very important to get whatever documents that are requested because if we do not get the documents to the Trustee in time, we risk the case being continued.
You should remember a couple things for the meeting. You will want to arrive on time and dress nice but modestly. I will meet you in the room. If you happen to get there before me and they call your case, advise them that I am on my way. You will need to bring your driver's license and social security card to the hearing. If you do not have either of these items, please let my office know immediately so that we can properly advise you on what to do. If you show up at the meeting without either of these documents, the hearing will be rescheduled. Cell phones are not permitted in the building, and of course nor are weapons and other items that you would not normally bring into a courthouse.
You are not expected to bring any other documents to the meeting unless we specifically tell you otherwise. When the case is called, the Trustee will swear you in and tape-record your answers to her questions which mean that everything that you say is under oath, and under penalties of perjury. Federal law allows for criminal penalties should you misrepresent or conceal any assets or other aspects of your case. By this point, you and I have gone over everything and have identified any potential "red flags" or issues which I anticipate the Trustee may raise and question. You should answer all questions honestly and truthfully, but you are not required to volunteer any information or talk in a narrative format. Keep your answers clear and concise. I am not permitted to speak on your behalf at this hearing unless there is a legal basis to do so (i.e. a creditor shows up and gets out of line, or if the Trustee asks me to speak.)
In certain cases, random and otherwise, someone from the U.S. Trustee's Office appears at the hearing, in addition to the regularly assigned Trustee for your case. If this happens, do not worry, as this does not necessarily mean that they are there for any reason other than a random audit. When this happens, you can expect additional questions from this person. Occasionally a creditor's attorney may show up. Again, this does not mean that there is anything to worry about. I am your advocate and will monitor the proceedings and act on your behalf in all aspects of this hearing. These folks are also permitted to ask you questions and your answers remain under oath. It is unlikely that there will be a "courtroom drama" in your case, but on very rare occasions a creditor (usually small, private creditors) might show up to make trouble. Do not allow anyone to provoke you if this happens, and remain calm while I work with the Trustee to maintain order and protect your interests.
The entire hearing may last anywhere between 5-25 minutes, depending upon who the Trustee is, and how complex they feel the issues in your case are. You should anticipate the following standard questions:
- Have you reviewed your bankruptcy petition prior to signing it?
- Have you disclosed all of your assets and liabilities?
- Were you explained, by me, the difference between chapter 7 and Chapter 13?
- Do you have any personal injury cases or other reasons to sue anyone for money?
- Real estate transactions, short sale or otherwise, in the last three years will be examined.
- Are you getting a tax refund? Have you filed your most recent tax return? If you got a refund, what did you do with the money?
- Have you transferred any assets in the last two years?
- Do you have any personal injury cases or other reasons to sue anyone for money?
If the Trustee feels that you have assets which may be non-exempt by law, the Trustee will most likely order an appraiser to go to your home and appraise your personal assets, or she will require me to produce additional documents to her within a certain timeframe, or both. Again, at this point there should be no surprises as we have thoroughly gone over your assets and given you a good idea of what to expect. If there are non-exempt assets in the case, there are several options that you have which we can discuss at that time.
At the conclusion of the hearing, the Trustee will give you your original documents back and we are free to go. At that point, I will answer any questions that you may have, and we can briefly go over any issues that came up at the meeting. I will have a very good idea of what to expect by the end of the hearing. Assuming there are no issues at the hearing, or subsequent adversarial proceedings filed by your creditors, you will receive your bankruptcy discharge roughly two months after the hearing. The courts are extremely backed up right now, and some Trustees are taking several months to complete their files. Some reasons why a file might be kept open are:
- Failure to complete the post-filing bankruptcy credit course (you should do this now if you have not already);
- The Trustee often times will hold a file open if the debtor has not yet filed a tax return for the year;
- If there are issues with non-exempt assets, appraisals, etc. this will keep a case open until resolved;
- Creditors have a certain amount of time to file an objection to your discharge, but the reasons are limited.
All in all, the process should be relatively easy. You will be in a rather public room with many other folks all going through the same thing, from all walks of life. The hearing is the hardest part of the proceeding for the debtor, in my opinion... and once you are through this, the rest should be smooth sailing.
Chapter 7 Bankruptcy
- Try to represent yourself without an attorney
- Lie on your petition or to the trustee
- Use your credit cards before filing the case (this means no cash advances or "convenience" checks, too!)
- Conceal income or assets from the court
- Pay back family members or friends before filing
- Incur any new debt such as elective surgery or vacation loans
- Not respond promptly to your attorney's request for information or documents
- Sell or transfer assets before filing, especially to a friend or family member
- Cash out a retirement account or otherwise exempt account before filing
- Make large ($600 or more) payments toward any one creditor right before filing
- Lie about your residency or how long you have lived in Florida
- Volunteer any "unasked for" information to the Trustee
- Talk to your creditors when they call, except to tell them that you have retained a bankruptcy attorney
- Except to keep your house if you are behind on the mortgage payments
- Disclose all of your assets including bank accounts
- Honestly answer all questions on the attorney's questionnaire and from the Trustee in court
- Tell your attorney if you have ever owned a business, even if you didn't make any money at it
- Have six months paystubs and bank statements available, or a Profit & Loss for one year
- Provide organized documents and information to your attorney
- Continue paying your mortgage if you want to keep your house
- Continue paying your car payment if you want to keep your car
- List all of your creditors, even if they are family members
- Tell your attorney about any foreclosures or repossessions that you may have had so that ALL of the debts may be listed and discharged
- Stay in contact with your attorney and make sure that he has your current telephone number and email address
- Show up on time to the 341 Meeting of Creditors, and be respectful and cooperative to the Trustee