You have scheduled an appointment to meet with an attorney to discuss your financial situation along with a possible bankruptcy filing. What should you expect to bring in for the meeting? For some unexplainable reason, many law offices simply schedule an appointment for you with no documents being requested. I consider this to be a complete waste of time for all parties. Proper legal advice cannot be provided without the benefit of reviewing certain items of information. Below I have addressed some of the items that my office will request to be brought in at the time of the initial meeting. The more of these items that can be brought in for the meeting, the more comprehensive the legal advice will be.
If you own a house, whether you wish to keep or surrender the house, counsel should be provided with proof of the house value, copy of the filed deed along with a statement which notes how much is owed on the mortgage(s). If you have more than one (1) mortgage on the property, a statement should be provided for each mortgage. A house is generally the largest purchase in one’s life. The value of a house can greatly impact a bankruptcy filing and this asset must be closely explored by counsel. Without this house information, many times counsel is doing nothing more than making an educated guess.
Proof of income or paychecks of all working adults in the household are also very important to bring in for the initial meeting. My office will generally request between one (1) to two (2) months worth of paychecks from all working adults in the household. Even if one spouse is not filing, their income must be calculated and noted within the petition. Any other sources of monthly income such as social security and disability must also be provided and ultimately verified by legal counsel.
I normally ask a client to also bring in at least one bank account statement. Ultimately, my office will collect two (2) or three (3) months of bank account statements. Most trustees will formally request that recent bank statements be provided to them for review shortly after the bankruptcy petition is filed. At the initial meeting, bank statements can be used to verify income and monthly expenses. Sometimes these statements reveal other sources of income that were not otherwise divulged by the client at the meeting.
I also like to see at least one (1) state and federal tax return at the initial meeting. If you are only bringing in one (1) tax return, it should be the most recently filed tax return. By the time of any bankruptcy filing, my office will have no less than two (2) years of tax returns- assuming one is legally required to file a tax return. A close review of tax returns can give the attorney a good idea of the yearly household income. It can also reveal any business interests that may exist along with other financial information such as dividend income and the like.
Any statements concerning retirement accounts should also be brought into the meeting. While these types of assets, even if significant in amount, can easily be protected within the bankruptcy petition, they must still be divulged with specificity. Additionally, if you can have any term or whole life insurance, the actually policy should be reviewed by counsel. If you own a whole life policy, try to obtain a recent statement which notes the amount of cash surrender value presently contained within the policy.
A recent credit report is also helpful at the initial meeting. My office recommends Annualcreditreport.com. Through this site you may obtain a free credit from each of the credit reporting agencies. Please be sure to obtain a printable version of the credit report and not a summary. This site will not provide you with a credit score but your score will never be needed by the attorney. This is a secure and reliable source for anyone to obtain a complete and accurate credit report. Many times I identify otherwise unknown creditors for my clients by reviewing their credit report(s).
In many instances I will conduct initial meetings without a lot in the way of supporting documents. What I have found is the best advice and game plans are formulated when the potential clients comes with as much in the way of the items noted herein. Upon calling my office, information is obtained. It is based upon the information provided that we are able to advise you what items to bring in. As noted, previously, this list is not exhaustive by any means. Your time is valuable. To make the best use of your time, come prepared for your initial meeting. It’s always better to bring in too much versus to little.