By Ryan C. Wood
When you file a bankruptcy case you are expected to attend a “meeting of creditors” pursuant to 11 U.S.C. §341. The meeting of creditors is sometimes called the “341” because the meeting is under §341 of the Bankruptcy Code. Failure to attend the meeting of creditors may result in the dismissal of your case. The name “meeting of creditors” sounds scary to some people because they think that they are going to be surrounded by their creditors grilling you in front of everyone. This is definitely not the case. This article will help explain what this meeting is and hopefully help dispel some of your fears.
First, the person that oversees the meeting of creditors is the trustee assigned to your bankruptcy case. It may be the Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 trustee depending on what chapter of bankruptcy you filed under. The trustee is not the judge. Therefore the meeting of creditors is not a “court date” that most people often confuse the meeting of creditors with. If your case is filed correctly and under the right circumstances you may never see the judge that is assigned to your case.
Secondly, you need to be sure you show up at the meeting on time and with the right documentation. The meeting will be held in a federal building. That means you will be going through security. You should be there at least 15 to 30 minutes early as there may sometimes be a long line. You need to bring your photo identification issued by the government. This could be a driver’s license or passport or anything issued by the government that has your picture on it. You need to be sure that the identification is unexpired. If it is expired, the marshals will not let you in the building even if you are the person pictured in the identification. You will also need to bring proof of your social security number issued by the government. The most common proof is your social security card. If you do not have a social security card you may bring your recent W2 or 1099 statements or tax transcripts that have your social security number on it. Normally the trustees require this proof to be your original copies so most trustees will not accept copies of your W2 or 1099. Normally the drivers license and social security card are the only documentation you need to bring with you to the meeting of creditors unless your bankruptcy lawyer or trustee indicate they want additional documentation.
After you make it through the security, you wait in the room indicated in your meeting of creditors notice. You would wait for your bankruptcy attorney there unless other arrangements have been made. There will be a number of cases that are assigned the same date and time as yours. The trustee will call cases up one by one to be sworn in under oath. Everything you say is recorded so if there is something the trustee asks you that you do not understand, ask the trustee to rephrase or repeat the question. Normally in a Chapter 7 no asset case, the trustee will ask about 5 minutes worth of questions. The questions are fairly easy. They would ask questions like: “Were you personally familiar with the information contained in your petition?” “Did you personally sign the petition?” “Is everything in your petition true and correct?” “Are all your assets and debts listed in the petition?” “Are there any changes you need to make in your petition?” “Have you filed for bankruptcy before?” “Have you transferred or sold any property in the past XX years?” “Have you filed all your tax returns?” Most of these questions only require a yes or no response. There is no need to give a long story. As I have indicated previously, everything is recorded. Even if you think the information you are providing is harmless, it may end up hurting you later as it can be used against you. In a Chapter 13 case, the trustee may ask additional questions regarding your Chapter 13 plan and whether you are on time with mortgage payments. They may ask if you are able to make the payments proposed in your Chapter 13 plan. Your bankruptcy attorney would most likely deal with all the Chapter 13 plan questions the trustee may have.
After the trustee finishes with the questioning, it is now time for any creditors to ask questions. Most of the time, creditors do not even show up. The creditors normally show up only if they believe that there has been some wrongdoing on your part and they want to prove that their debt is non-dischargeable so they ask certain questions related to your ability to pay those debts.
I see a lot of my clients get very nervous prior to the meeting of creditors because they believe they will be grilled and embarrassed in front of everyone. After the meeting is over, the most common comment I get is, “That’s it? Wow, that was a lot easier than I thought.” The best advice I can give to people going into a meeting of creditors is to relax and answer the questions truthfully and honestly and if everything in your petition was completed correctly, it should be a fairly easy process.