Checklist and questions to ask before considering bankruptcy

Determining whether to file for bankruptcy is a significant life decision.  Don’t base your decision on advice from friends or family.  Do your homework first. 

Finding the Right Attorney

The first — and most critical step — is to find the right attorney.  Talk to an attorney you can trust to provide honest advice with your best interests in mind.  Unfortunately, this is easier said than done.  Where do you start?    

Finding a bankruptcy attorney online or in the Yellow Pages is like choosing a number on a roulette wheel — play a hunch, pick one and hope for the best.  There are better ways. 

Have any of your friends, family members or coworkers filed for bankruptcy in the past?  If so, ask them about their experience.  Find out what they liked about their attorney, what they didn’t like, and whether they would recommend him or her.

Is there a local credit counselor in your community?  If so, they may be able to recommend a trusted bankruptcy attorney.

If you’re forced to find an attorney online or in the Yellow Pages, choose three (if possible) and conduct a consultation with each. 

Preparing For Your Meeting

Most attorneys offer free consultations.  Ideally, you won’t have to pay for that first meeting.  But don’t automatically rule out an attorney that charges a nominal fee for a consultation.

Prior to meeting with an attorney, write out some questions to take with you.  Of course, you’ll want to ask specific questions pertaining to your financial situation.  Before you leave the office, find out the attorney’s opinion on whether he or she thinks bankruptcy is your best option.  If so, find out if they recommend Chapter 7 or 13. 

Questions to ask

Here are some additional general questions you can ask:

  • What areas of law do you practice?  You want an attorney that specializes in bankruptcy, not one that is a “jack-of-all-trades, but master of none.”  You have too much at stake.  However, in some rural areas, it’s not always possible to find a bankruptcy specialist.
  • How long have you been practicing?  Make sure the attorney isn’t a rookie.
  • How many bankruptcies did you file last year?  Again, make sure you’re talking to a bankruptcy expert.
  • Do you file Chapter 7 and Chapter 13?  This is critical.  Some bankruptcy attorneys specialize in Chapter 7 or Chapter 13.  You want an attorney that files both, depending on which is appropriate for your specific situation.
  • If I decide to file for bankruptcy, will I be dealing directly with my attorney or a paralegal?  Beware of law firms where all of the work is done by paralegals.  Some clients don’t actually see their attorney until they’re in court.  You want an attorney that is personally engaged in your case.
  • If I decide to file for bankruptcy, how much will it cost?  Understandably, cost is an important factor.  However, selecting an attorney based solely on price is a big mistake.  It’s an important consideration, but don’t let it drive your decision. 

Remember, the purpose of your initial meeting is to obtain advice and assess the attorney.  Don’t let anyone talk you into making a commitment for services!  Give yourself time to go home and think about it before making a final decision. 

Making Your Decision

When you get home, evaluate your experience:

  • Did you feel comfortable talking to the attorney? 
  • Do you trust the attorney’s advice and recommendations? 
  • Is the attorney a bankruptcy expert?
  • Did you feel pressured to make a decision? 

Feeling pressured into making a decision is a big red flag.  Attorneys working with your best interests in mind will always encourage you to go home and think it over.

One final important point:  don’t make a final decision on bankruptcy until you talk to a non-profit credit counselor.   The consultation is free and will help you explore all of your non-bankruptcy options. 

A good counselor will only recommend bankruptcy, if it’s truly your best option.  I tell people to check out GreenPath Debt Solutions at www.greenpath.org or 1-800-550-1961.

Good luck!

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