About a month after you file for bankruptcy, you will need to attend your meeting of creditors. But what should you expect when you attend?
What is the Meeting of Creditors?
The meeting of creditors is sometimes called the 341 meeting. "Within a reasonable time after the order of relief in a case under this title, the United States trustee shall convene and preside at a meeting of creditors." 11 U.S.C. § 341(a).
The United States trustee delegates its duty to preside at the meeting of creditors to the trustee appointed to the case. In a chapter 13 bankruptcy, the standing trustee (or one of her staff attorneys) will conduct the hearing. In a chapter 7 bankruptcy, a panel trustee will conduct the hearing. See also, Chapter 7 vs. Chapter 13.
At the meeting of creditors, the trustee will begin by putting the debtor under oath and then begin asking the debtor a number of questions. The first question is a doozy: please state your name for the record.
Preparing for the Meeting of Creditors
Not all questions are as simple as stating your name for the record, but it's important to realize that the trustee isn't trying to trick you. One of the trustee's duties is to maximize value for the creditors, so they are looking for non-exempt assets or, in the case of a chapter 13, additional disposable income.
To prepare for your meeting of creditors, there are a few things you can do to help things go more smoothly.
First, produce your documents to the trustee. When you filed your case, the court issued an order requiring that the debtor produce certain documents to the trustee. If you filed with Brackney Law Office, PLLC, we likely gathered all of those documents in advance of filing your bankruptcy petition and turned over those documents to the trustee within two weeks of your petition date. If the trustee doesn't have the right documents, it is likely they won't be able to hold your hearing and it will have to be rescheduled.
Second, review your bankruptcy petition. If you see anything that needs to be added or corrected, make note of it and contact your attorney. It may be necessary to file an amendment to your petition.
Third, be sure that you have your drivers license and social security card. The trustee will need these documents in order to verify your identity. Although there are a few substitute documents that the trustee can accept, these are the most common documents presented. For information on requesting a replacement social security card, click here. if the trustee can't verify your identity, it is likely they won't be able to hold your hearing and it will have to be rescheduled.
Lastly, be on time. Heck, arrive about 15 minutes early for your meeting of creditors. By arriving early, you can listen to the questions that the trustee is asking other debtors. More than likely, they'll be the same questions the trustee will ask you.
Attending your Meeting of Creditors
If you don't understand a question, ask for clarification.
These are the three most important things I tell my clients before a meeting of creditors. Although it is a formal legal proceeding and you are under oath, it is (usually) not an inquisition. Creditors may also ask you questions directly; most often, it is a creditor with a lien on your vehicle wanting to know if it is insured and with whom and if you want to keep the vehicle.
There may be several other people in the room when you arrive. Most of them are debtors waiting for their own hearings and their attorneys. In the front of the room is the trustee (who is an attorney, not a judge). In front of the trustee is a recording device to record each meeting.
When your case is called, the debtor and their attorney will go to the front of the room to sit with the trustee. If any creditors appear, they may also move toward the front. The trustee will then verify your identity, begin the recording, put you under oath, and have you identify yourself for the audio recording.
You'll verify your signature and the date you signed the petition. You'll verify your current address and the trustee will ask you various questions about your petition. If you are a Brackney Law Office, PLLC client, you'll recognize most of the questions as we have likely gone over them during our conversations.
The trustee will ask you to confirm that you've seen the bankruptcy information sheet which outlines the types of bankruptcy, the credit counseling requirement, and informs you of the importance of being honest with regard to your bankruptcy. It's something I go over with my clients at our initial consultation.
Most of the time, your meeting of creditors will last about 5 minutes. I think the record for the fastest meeting of creditors is about 1:28 (that's right, less than 90 seconds!); the longest 341 meeting I've participated lasted several hours (it was a complex chapter 11 reorganization).
The author of this post practices law in the bankruptcy courts in the Eastern District of Kentucky. As a result, some of the information contained in this post may involve local practice and may not apply in other jurisdictions. Of course, your case may be different. That's why this blog post is for general information only and is not legal advice. Because your situation is unique, you should consult with an attorney to determine what course of action is right for you.