What to Expect During Your Initial Consultation
Bankruptcy Lawyers with Beecher & Conniff Law Office in Tacoma, WA
During your initial consultation with a bankruptcy attorney in this office, you will be asked to provide information regarding your debts, your assets, your income, and any special problems which prompted you to visit the office. Your bankruptcy attorney will review all the information with you and determine the appropriate course of action for your case. We have a checklist and questionnaire in this website that helps you organize your materials for the first meeting. The more information you can bring to the meeting the sooner we can complete our analysis and prepare your case for filing. However, if you feel your situation is of an emergency nature we will see you without completing all of the requested paperwork in advance.
It is very important that you provide your bankruptcy attorney with all the information that is requested so that they can assure you receive complete relief for your problems. It will be your responsibility to provide this office with accurate and complete information regarding your assets and debts. In most cases we will provide you with a worksheet and checklist via email prior to our meeting in the office if time permits. These materials are available on this website and will speed up the process. At a minimum we will need to look at all of your bills, all evidence of income from all sources in the prior six months, and, eventually, we will need copies of your last two years tax returns. It is a good idea to get your free credit report from annualcreditreport.com before you come in. We recommend that you select only one report from the major providers rather than all that are offered.
If you own real estate we will request you to have a free Comparative Marketing Analysis (CMA) valuation so we can assure the value of your property. Most Realtors perform this service for free. You can also provide us with information from a Zillow.com search or your annual property tax assessment that you get each year from the county. We are available to search public records and credit reports (for a nominal fee) to determine the extent of your debts. We will also want information regarding any pending or closed lawsuits and any foreclosure documents that you have which might affect your property.
We will use this information to assist you in deciding whether it is appropriate to file either a Chapter 7 or a Chapter 13 bankruptcy proceeding. At this meeting we may also prepare your bankruptcy petition if we have sufficient information to do so. At this meeting we will also discuss and make arrangements for payment of fees and costs. You have reviewed and signed a separate fee agreement which discloses your financial obligation to us. We will quote you a flat fee that will cover your needs in your case. NO HIDDEN FEES.
Once the bankruptcy petition has been prepared and fee arrangements made, we will file your bankruptcy petition with the bankruptcy court. We do this electronically and you do not have to be present on the date we file. The filing of the bankruptcy petition creates an automatic restraining order which prevents your creditors from taking any action to continue to collect on your debts. (We call this “stopping the music”) It is very important that we are made aware of pending lawsuits, garnishments, foreclosures, repossession activities, and license suspensions so that we can make immediate contact with those parties and advise them of the bankruptcy filing. As soon as you have retained our bankruptcy firm by making the required payment, you may advise creditors who continue to contact you that you have hired us for bankruptcy work. Please give the creditor our name and telephone number. There are no secrets. Creditors will usually stop collection once they verify with our office that a case has been filed. They don’t want to waste their time.
The bankruptcy court will send you notification of your bankruptcy filing at the address that you have given us as your mailing address approximately 10 days after your bankruptcy case is filed with the bankruptcy court. In a Chapter 13 case, the notice will be sent in approximately 20 days. These notices are also sent to all of the creditors and will advise you and them of the date, time and place of your initial bankruptcy meeting. We also try to notify you be email as soon as your case is filed so you can advise any creditors who contact you.
This meeting is called a “Meeting of the Creditors.” All individuals who file bankruptcy must attend this meeting in person. From time to time you may also receive other notices from our offices. Approximately seven days after your case is filed, we send you a copy of your filed bankruptcy petition and a short reminder letter of the date and your attendance at the meeting of creditors.
If you do not receive your initial notice from the court within the timeframes set forth above please contact our offices.
The notice of your meeting of the creditors that you received from the bankruptcy court will advise you of the initial bankruptcy hearing. This is usually the only hearing/meeting that you will be required to attend unless specifically notified by us. The bankruptcy meetings are conducted in the Union Station Building at 1717 Pacific Avenue in Tacoma.
If your bankruptcy case is filed in another district, you may be required to attend a meeting in Bremerton or Seattle. One of the bankruptcy attorneys from this office will be in attendance at this meeting with you. The meetings are usually held in Courtroom J, which is located on the second floor of the building. There is ample parking near Union Station. You will be required to pass through a security checkpoint at the entrance of the building. Please leave cell phones and pagers at home or in your car because they are not permitted in the courtroom areas. We also discourage you from bringing your children to the meeting.
The Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy proceedings are conducted by a court appointed who is usually an attorney. The trustee will have reviewed your bankruptcy petition in advance of the meeting and will be familiar with your case. The bankruptcy trustee typically schedules 8 to 10 meetings per half-hour segment. You should be there at least 15 minutes prior to your scheduled meeting.
The actual questioning only takes about two to three minutes, but you may be required to wait for at least a half-hour before your case is called. It is not necessary for you to dress up for the bankruptcy meeting, but we encourage you to wear clothing that is appropriate for a courtroom setting. You have three weeks advance notice of this meeting and it is important that you arrange your schedule to assure your attendance.
Some of your creditors may attend this bankruptcy meeting and ask you questions about their financial dealings with you. This is very rare. We will be speaking to those creditors on your behalf and you should not be alarmed by their attendance. The meeting is for their benefit as well. Quite often we negotiate reaffirmation agreements (discussed below) at this time.
From time to time, your bankruptcy attorneys may schedule other matters that will appear before the bankruptcy court in connection with your case. Our office will routinely provide you with copies of bankruptcy court pleadings related to other hearings. You will not be required to attend these other scheduled hearings unless specifically notified by the office.
In some instances, it is to your benefit to preserve financial relations with some of your creditors. For example, you may have a secured automobile or furniture loan that you want to continue to pay on. If requested by a creditor we will assist you in reviewing and implementing a document called a “REAFFIRMATION AGREEMENT”. These arrangements are enforceable beyond the bankruptcy case and require written approval by your attorney. We will provide a separate information sheet regarding reaffirmations as part of your consultation.
Relief From Stay
In some instances, your secured creditors or other parties may make a request to the bankruptcy court to have bankruptcy restraining order dissolved to permit that creditor to begin or continue a foreclosure or repossession action which would permit that secured creditor to take possession of that collateral.
If you intend to abandon the collateral which secures a claim, we will typically not oppose their requests. We do expect you to co-operate with us and the creditor in returning those items. If a creditor is seeking permission to repossess or foreclose items which you want to keep, it may be necessary for your attorney to file papers which oppose this action and attend a subsequent court hearing. Your attendance at these hearings may be required. Extensive contested hearings may require additional fees which are discussed in the fee agreement.
If you own real estate at the time of your bankruptcy filing, it may be necessary for us to take additional action in your case to extinguish judgment liens which may have been attached to the title of your property. It is very important that we are made aware of the status of any lawsuit that you are involved in prior to your bankruptcy filing so that we can determine if lien avoidance procedures are necessary in your case. In some cases, you may have pledged some of your personal property to secure loans made by small loan companies. In most cases we are able to extinguish those pledge agreements. It is important that you provide us with loan documents that will enable us to determine if additional court action is necessary. You will not have to attend lien avoidance hearings unless you are specifically advised to do so by our office. We may charge additional fees for this procedure that will be discussed with you during the preparation of your case.
Most Chapter 7 bankruptcy cases conclude with the issuance of certificates of discharge in approximately 90 days after the case is filed. In rare instances, a creditor may file a complaint in your bankruptcy case objecting to the discharge of their debt. Problems which might affect a discharge are usually discussed in the initial meeting with the attorney. Your attorney has no way of knowing in advance if any creditor will object to the discharge of their claim.
For this reason, we have not agreed in advance to represent your interests if a discharge complaint is filed. This is also discussed in your fee agreement. The defense of discharge challenges will require additional fees if we agree to accept the defense. There are some debts that will survive your bankruptcy discharge without the necessity of a complaint. Usually, these are claims related to your child support, alimony, some student loans, taxes and criminal restitution. If you have provided your attorney complete information at the time of the initial office conference, these matters will have been fully discussed. Once your certificate of discharge has been issued by the court, your case is considered closed absent the filing of a complaint.
The majority of bankruptcy cases are administered by either a Chapter 7 or a Chapter 13 trustee who has been appointed by the Department of Justice. A Chapter 7 trustee is usually an attorney. A Chapter 13 trustee usually has a complete staff to assist him in administering and monitoring you Chapter 13 cases. The trustee’s duties require that they conduct the bankruptcy meeting and that they ask you questions, under oath, regarding your financial affairs.
Although in most bankruptcy cases all of your property is protected for you by state and federal exemption laws, the trustee is required to take possession in some instances of any unprotected property that you have and sell it for the benefit of the creditors. This happens in a very small percentage of routine bankruptcy cases. Our office will assist you in making sure you’re aware that your property is protected to the extent that is available under applicable law. Our firm will not assist you in any way in concealing property from a trustee. From time to time a trustee may ask you to provide information about your property. You must co-operate with the trustee at all times. The trustee’s administration of your property may take longer than the normal case duration. In other words, you may have received your discharge, but the bankruptcy trustee may continue to deal with your case beyond that date.
Telephone Inquiries and Paper Work
Our office is available to answer your routine inquiries about your case at any time during normal business hours which are 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and until 4:00 p.m. on Friday.
We have an answering machine that can record your message after business hours. Our fax number is (253) 572-3427. We ask that your inquiries to our office be made first to our staff who may be able to answer the majority of your questions. The attorneys in the office will try and return your phone call by the close of business the day you called in. If you use our phone answering service, please leave a detailed message including your phone number.
The paperwork which is generated in connection with your bankruptcy case are important papers which should be kept by you for future use. From time to time, we will be sending you copies of correspondence and pleadings we receive or generate in your case. You should keep copies of these documents as well. If you have given us original documentation regarding your financial affairs, please request that it be returned to you upon conclusion of your case. Your case file will be kept in our office for approximately five years after we conclude our work and then destroyed. Your original court records will be maintained in the federal records center indefinitely.
Questionnaire and Checklist
We have a questionnaire that can be downloaded below and printed for you to fill out and bring with you to your initial meeting. This helps organize things and gets us off to a good start.