When I am meeting with clients to review and sign their bankruptcy petition, I always advise them that they will be required to attend a 341 meeting within a short time after the case is filed and prepare them for what to expect at the meeting. Often, my client’s reaction is one of fear. That’s understandable. They’re already stressed enough based on their financial woes and now I’m telling them they have to “meet” their creditors. Really? I tell these clients to relax. It’s not like that at all. The Bankruptcy Code requires that each person who files a bankruptcy case must appear for an examination where their creditors can ask questions about their situation. Either I or my associate will be present with the client at the meeting to make sure that things go smoothly and in accordance with the law and to protect the client from any creditor who might try to get out of line. These meetings aren’t usually contentious and in most instances last just a few minutes. Not all creditors will attend the meeting. The bankruptcy judge is never present and the 341 meeting is not a court hearing. Instead, the meeting is conducted in most states by the bankruptcy trustee assigned to the case.
What Happens At a 341 Meeting?
You must be personally present for your 341 meeting. Failure to attend is handled differently in different districts. In some districts, it may cause your case to be dismissed on the spot. In any event, you don’t want to test the waters by failing to attend your meeting. Normally, you will be required to prove your identity and this is commonly done by having your driver’s license and your social security card with you when you attend. Next, you will be sworn in and asked some basic questions. These questions may include the following:
- Is this your picture ID and Social Security card?
- State your name. Are you still at the same address you listed on your bankruptcy paperwork?
- Did you sign the petition, schedules, statements, and related documents? Is the signature your own?
- Did you read the petition, schedules, statements, and documents before you signed them?
- Are you personally familiar with the information contained in the petition and schedules?
- To the best of your knowledge, is the information contained in the petition, schedules, statements, and related documents true and correct?
- Did you provide the information to your attorney for the preparation of the Means Test?
- Are there any errors or omissions you need to bring to my attention at this time?
- Are all of your assets and property identified on the schedules?
- Have you listed all of your creditors on the schedules?
- Have you filed bankruptcy before?
- Is your income still the same as it was on the day you filed bankruptcy?
- Are your expenses still the same?
- What is the address of your current employer?
- Is the copy of the tax return you provided a true copy of your most recent tax return?
- Do you have a domestic support obligation, (child support or alimony)?
- Are you current on your post-petition child support or alimony obligations?
- Have you filed all required tax returns for the past four years?
- Do you have a claim or lawsuit against anyone or any business that might result in you getting some money? If so, what is the status of each case and who is representing you?
The foregoing is not an exhaustive list of questions. You may be asked other or different questions depending on the circumstances of your case or local practices. For example, you may be asked about any large or unusual bank deposits appearing on your recent bank statements. Or, if you are self-employed, you may be asked questions about your business and how it operates. However, any questions that you are asked will be addressed to your current financial situation and the information you have provided in the petition, schedules, statements and plans you have filed in the bankruptcy court. You are under oath and you must answer these questions truthfully and completely.
How Should You Handle the 341 Meeting?
I advise clients to dress appropriately and plan to arrive at least 30 minutes early. This will give you plenty of time to find parking, get through security, and find the meeting room. These meetings are frequently conducted in federal court facilities so don’t bring cameras, cell phones, computers or other electronic devices, pocket knives, nail clippers, weapons or any other items that might cause you to be detained at the security checkpoint. As far as attire, I suggest business casual. Leave the shorts, tank tops, flip flops, t-shirts and other casual wear at home. By arriving early, you can observe how the meetings before you are held and this might go a long way towards easing your anxiety about the meeting. When you are called up for your meeting, make sure you speak clearly and loudly enough to be heard. Everything that is said is tape recorded and the tape must pick up your voice. If you don’t understand or hear a question asked to you, be sure to ask to have the question repeated. Answer a question only after you have heard the question and you understand what is being asked.
There is really no need to fear your participation in the 341 meeting. Your lawyer should have spent some time preparing you for the meeting. Be sure to ask your lawyer in advance about anything that you don’t understand or that you are concerned about. The best thing you can do to be prepared for this meeting is to make sure you have told your lawyer everything about your current financial situation. This will drastically reduce, or even eliminate, any chances for an unpleasant surprise at your meeting. If you have done this and your lawyer has properly prepared and timely filed your case documents, the chances are good that your meeting will go smoothly and quickly. In that case, you will probably walk out of your meeting wondering why you were so worried about it.