If you’ve been struggling with your finances, the last thing you want, or need is another big financial commitment to manage. You may have even considered filing for bankruptcy but are worried about how much it will cost and whether the associated professional fees will be “worth it”.
We get it. The words “legal fees” sound expensive. And there are other options available than working with a certified bankruptcy attorney.
Let’s look at your petition preparation options so you can get a complete understanding of who can help you and how much it could cost to prepare a voluntary petition for bankruptcy in California.
Filing for Bankruptcy Without an Attorney
In the American legal system, people have the right to represent themselves and the bankruptcy court is no different. But just with criminal or civil cases, a bankruptcy petition can be more complicated than it may first seem.
If you choose to file without a bankruptcy attorney, you’ll be known as a pro se debtor to the court.
As of the writing of this article, if you want to file a voluntary bankruptcy petition in any of the four California districts, you’ll need to fill out approximately twenty-four forms.
This substantial packet of forms requires a lot of attention to detail. It is designed so that the Court will have a complete picture of your financial life. Failure to complete these forms properly can result in:
- the court dismissing your petition
- missing debts that could have been discharged as part of a properly filed bankruptcy
- putting you at risk for being accused of making a fraudulent claim.
As part of your petition, you’ll need to list all your creditors, secured, unsecured, and “priority” debts like child support, recent tax debts, and alimony.
You will also have to assign a value of all your assets — from your household furnishings, cars, and tools of the trade, right down to your pets.
You’ll need to answer questions about your recent debt payments. You’ll need to tell the court where you’ve lived for the past three years to determine your filing eligibility under California state law.
You will also have to provide a statement of your income to determine if you qualify to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If not, you may have to file under a different chapter that requires you repay a portion of your creditors.
If you’re filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, it’s likely you’ll be able to keep all your assets; however, California has a fairly complicated exemption system that you’ll have to navigate to protect your assets and personal property. It can be tricky to analyze your options. California homeowners especially need to understand the exemption options and select the one that will protect the equity in their home.
If you decide to file on your own, you won’t have anyone available to answer your questions if you get stuck or need advice. to make the best decision about an issue related to your petition.
The clerks and support staff in the bankruptcy court offices cannot legally answer your questions or give you any advice about preparing your petition or on how to respond to creditors if they raise an objection to your bankruptcy petition.
California Bankruptcy Petition Preparers
If going it alone and being required to fill out twenty-four forms doesn’t sound appealing to you, you might be tempted to consider using the services of a non-attorney bankruptcy petition preparer.
These petition preparation service providers are governed by a strict code of conduct and have their compensation capped as outlined in the federal bankruptcy code (11 U.S.C. § 110).
With the current cap on the petition preparer’s fees being around $150 — including all associated costs of photocopying, couriering, and postage — it might sound like a pretty good deal to have someone else handle the preparation of your pro se bankruptcy petition.
But keep in mind that this charge doesn’t cover the filing fees and other court costs for filing your petition.
Because non-attorney petition preparers aren’t licensed California bankruptcy attorneys, they are prohibited from giving you any legal advice.
A preparer can’t review all your assets and liabilities and determine if bankruptcy is even the right thing for you to do to get your financial life back in control.
Because there are multiple options, called chapters, written into the bankruptcy code, you might have questions about which chapter is right for you, your family, or your business. A petition preparer can’t help you with this decision.
If you aren’t sure how to answer a question on one of the bankruptcy forms, your preparer can’t help you figure out your response.
A preparer can’t speculate on which debts will be discharged, which are nondischargeable in a bankruptcy action, or if you should reaffirm any portion of your existing debt.
You can’t get tax advice from a petition preparer. For some, a bankruptcy proceeding can have tax implications.
And worse, if one of your creditors objects to your bankruptcy petition, a non-attorney petition preparer cannot advise you how to proceed or what defenses might be available to you.
The truth is, we tend to agree with this statement on the Central District of California Bankruptcy Court’s website:
“…there is no need to pay for anyone to assist you with filing your bankruptcy petition other than a licensed attorney who can give you needed legal advice.”
Using a Licensed California Bankruptcy Attorney to Represent You
Every bankruptcy case is unique which means that even the “average” bankruptcy petition can get complicated. Especially in a state like California where we have a two-tiered exemption system for personal effects and assets like real estate, cars, and tools of the trade.
If you’re eligible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection, you don’t want to forfeit assets that you would otherwise be entitled to keep.
That’s why it makes sense to sit down and talk to a local, Los Angeles area bankruptcy attorney.
But first, let’s address the elephant in the room: attorney’s fees. It can be a legitimate concern to commit yourself to paying for a lawyer to handle your case. Especially if you’ve been struggling to make ends meet.
Most attorneys offer a free consultation where you’ll be able to review the details of your finances and get advice based on your specific situation. And this review and initial meeting is a free, no obligation opportunity to discuss your case and get professional legal advice about what the right next step is for you.
At the Law Offices of Larry Simon, we pride ourselves on only recommending bankruptcy when it is the best move for you to break the cycle of debt. If bankruptcy isn’t the right thing for you? We’ll tell you.
Our professional fees are based on the specifics of your case. We work to keep costs fair while providing you with the best representation possible.
Plus, every aspect of your case is handled by an attorney who is highly-trained in bankruptcy and bankruptcy related litigation. Unlike most of the big city practices, we don’t hand you and your case off to paralegals or staff members. You work with your assigned attorney from filing to discharge.
Our boutique firm will expertly handle your case so that you have the peace of mind knowing that you are making the correct financial decision for your future without the stress, risk, and overwhelm that can come with filing a pro se debtor’s bankruptcy petition.
It’s our job to identify the potential risks and pitfalls of your particular case and to advise you on the best course of action. We have the years of experience to handle creditor objections and provide defensive strategies so you can enjoy a brighter financial future.
Because we can give you much needed legal advice after considering all possible scenarios, it makes sense to hire a specialist to handle your case, so it gets done right the first time.
If an issue arises, we have a solid working relationship with the local trustees and can often avoid lengthy legal proceedings to get matters resolved and moving forward quickly. Without a lawyer on your side, you may end up missing out on key protections built into the bankruptcy code.
It costs nothing to schedule a consultation in our Mission Hills office. Let’s discuss your options and develop your bankruptcy strategy together.
Schedule your free, no obligation consultation today. Don’t wait another minute to take back control over your financial life.
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