Here are a few pointers to help you at the start of the Chapter 13 bankruptcy process.

1. Be Patient

When I said bankruptcy “process,” I really meant it’s a process.  Filing for bankruptcy relief is comparable to filing your taxes.

For some people, it can be a relatively swift and easy process, but for the majority of folks, it will take time to gather the necessary documents and information.  Once you have provided all the information to your attorney, it will still take some time to get the bankruptcy forms prepared and to review everything for accuracy.

A bankruptcy petition is considered a sworn statement to the court.  As a result, you definitely want to make sure that everything is correct.

2. Take a Credit Counseling Course

Every person who files bankruptcy must take a credit counseling course before the case can be filed.  At Bond & Botes, we assist our clients in the process by helping them get in touch with certified credit counseling agencies.  If you are filing pro se, then be aware that your case can be immediately dismissed if your file before you’ve completed a credit counseling course.

3. Keep Track of Financial Documents.

This is a big part of filing a case and can really speed up the process.  Keep copies of your tax returns, W-2’s, and other financial documents.

Not only will you need these in order to prepare the bankruptcy petition, but you may also be required to provide copies to the Bankruptcy Trustee.  You can seriously delay or jeopardize your case if you can’t turn over financial records requested by the Trustee.

4. Don’t Make Payments or Property Transfers to Family or Friends.

If you’re considering Bankruptcy, then you may be tempted to consider transferring vehicles or land to trusted friends or family members so the Court won’t try to take the property.  Absolutely Do NOT Do This!

When filing for bankruptcy relief you are required to disclose any transfers that have happened in the last 2 years.  In some cases, the Court will look back up to 10 years.  The Court then has the power to reverse that transfer.

If you are interested in getting financial help through a bankruptcy, then before you make any changes speak to an experienced bankruptcy attorney.  Your attorney can help you plan for multiple situations.

5. Don’t Try to Hide Assets.

I often meet with people who tell me that they have a family member driving a vehicle in their name.  The story usually goes “It’s really their car, but it’s just still titled in my name.”  In that situation, it is still your car in the eyes of the Bankruptcy Court.  That means we still must disclose to the Court that you own that car.

Remember that the Bankruptcy Petition is a sworn statement.  An attempt to hid or conceal information from the Court can be considered perjury and can result in criminal charges!

A Lawyer Can Help

As always, a knowledgeable bankruptcy attorney can help you with all of these issues.  The standard forms for bankruptcy have been modified in an effort to make them easier to read and understand, but bankruptcy is still a complicated area.  Even other attorneys tend to avoid bankruptcy law!

Chapter 13 “Do’s” and “Don’ts”

Unlike a Chapter 7 liquidation bankruptcy case, a Chapter 13 reorganization case can last for several years.  In fact, typically a Chapter 13 case must last for at least 36 months and can continue for as much as 60 months, or 5 years.

Clearly, the Court can’t expect someone to put their life on hold for 5 years.  Here are some of the things you can and cannot do while in a Chapter 13 case.

1. Don’t Sell Any Property Without Court Approval

When you file a Bankruptcy case, you create something called the “Bankruptcy Estate.”  The Estate is comprised of all of your assets, with just a few exceptions.

Generally, any real estate or vehicles you have will be a part of the Estate.  Any property, real or personal, that is a part of the Estate cannot be sold or transferred unless the Court approves the transfer.  The rationale behind this is that the Court doesn’t want people trying to hide assets.

If a person sells 100 acres of land to his brother for $20, then it’s obvious that the “sale” was just to get the land out of his name in the first place. As long as the sale is an arms-length transaction and for fair market value, the Court shouldn’t have any issues.

2. Don’t Use Credit While You’re in A Chapter 13 Case

Despite what you may think about bankruptcy ruining your credit, it is actually surprisingly common for creditors to offer loans to people who have filed cases.  However, the purpose behind filing a case in the first place is to get you OUT of debt, not into more of it.

For this reason, the Court has to be notified anytime you intend to use credit or borrow money while still in a Chapter 13 case.  The Court wants to make sure that you won’t get right back into a bad financial situation or be taken advantage of by a creditor.

Typically, this issue comes up for people who need to buy new cars.  The Court realizes that having a vehicle is a basic necessity of modern life, so most Courts have procedures to follow to be approved to use credit in case your old car is wrecked or completely breaks down.  Just be sure to check with a qualified bankruptcy attorney who can help you through your Court’s procedures.

3. Tell Your Bankruptcy Attorney About Any Lawsuit or Potential Lawsuit You May Be A Part Of.

No one ever plans to be part of a lawsuit, but it is an unfortunate reality that accidents happen.  If you’re in a car wreck or you’re injured while you are in a Chapter 13 case, and you are considering filing a lawsuit to recover for your injuries, make sure you tell your bankruptcy attorney.

When you’re in a Chapter 13 case, you have a duty to disclose lawsuits to the Court.  If you don’t do so, then the party you file a case against can use that failure to disclose as a defense against the lawsuit.

Basically, you can lose the case automatically.  The consequences can mean you may never be able to get reimbursed for medical costs or other injuries you’ve suffered if you don’t communicate with your bankruptcy attorney or the Court.

4. Tell Your Attorney if You’re Receiving Money from Another Source

Be sure to let your attorney know if you’re going to receive money from an outside source.  The most common situations are when a person receives money from insurance or from an inheritance.

Suppose you are in a car wreck and your insurance company is going to be paying you the proceeds from your insurance policy to help you buy a new vehicle.  Before your insurance company can do so, the Court has to enter an order directing the insurance company where to send the funds.

Typically, if your car was a part of the Chapter 13 case, the Court will direct the insurance money to go to the Chapter 13 Trustee to be used to pay off the remaining debt on the vehicle.  If there are any funds left over, your attorney can request that they are distributed to you to use.  If you don’t notify your attorney that you’ve been in a wreck and will be receiving money, then it can greatly delay the entire process and keep you from getting a replacement vehicle.

5. Tell Your Attorney If You Will Be Receiving an Inheritance of Any Kind.

Bankruptcy is usually the last thing on a person’s mind after losing a loved one, but failing to disclose this information to the Court can be devastating to your case.  If you will be receiving an inheritance (either real estate or cash), then you must tell your bankruptcy attorney.

Typically, if you will be receiving money from an inheritance, you may be able to claim some of it as exempt.  Anything that cannot be exempted has to be paid into the Court.  They will use the inheritance to finish paying off the case and return any excess funds back to you.

I know you may think it is unfair to use inheritance to pay your debts, but trying to hide an inheritance from the Court could be much, much worse.  The Court has the power to dismiss your case immediately for failure to disclose information.

Further, if the Judge determines you tried to lie or falsify information to the Court, then he may even impose a denial of discharge, effectively making it impossible for you to file bankruptcy again.  Since lying to the Court is considered perjury, the Judge could also turn your case over to the US Attorney’s office for criminal prosecution.

Contact a Bankruptcy Attorney Today to Discuss Your Options

A Chapter 13 bankruptcy case can provide a huge relief from your debts and help you reorganize your financial life.  However, as you can see, the process can be lengthy and difficult.  Very rarely will a case make it all the way to completion without the help of an experienced attorney.

If you are having financial trouble and you’re thinking about filing for bankruptcy, please make an appointment to come see us at Bond & Botes.  Our attorneys have years of experience handling all aspects of bankruptcy.  We offer free initial consultations and we have convenient offices in Alabama, Tennessee, and Mississippi.

At Bond & Botes, our attorneys specialize in helping people navigate the difficulties in the bankruptcy process.  If you are considering filing, don’t go through it alone.  Each of our convenient locations offers free initial consultations.  We’d be happy to help guide you back to financial security.

Nick Gajewski
Written by Nick Gajewski

Nick Gajewski is an Associate Attorney at the Bond & Botes Law Offices in Florence and Haleyville, Alabama. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Alabama, and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Alabama School of Law. Nick joined the team of Bond & Botes bankruptcy lawyers back in 2014 and has been helping clients navigate financial issues since. Read his full bio here.

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