How Fast Can I File for Bankruptcy?

01 Sep How Fast Can I File for Bankruptcy?

“My wages are being garnished!”

“I have a foreclosure scheduled for tomorrow!”

“They’re going to come and repossess my car tonight!”

As a bankruptcy attorney, I have heard all these, and more, as reasons why a potential client’s case needs to be filed TODAY. While bankruptcy attorneys may be able to file a bankruptcy case on an emergency basis, we may not want to. Here’s why.An old aphorism says, “A lack of planning on your part does not justify an emergency on my part.” Many client emergencies are made such only because the potential client waited until the last minute to call. While there are exceptions, foreclosures and repossessions don’t happen after you’ve missed your first payment, and lawsuits require that you be served with suit papers in advance. In most situations, there’s more than enough time to plan ahead and speak with a lawyer before the foreclosure/repossession/garnishment happens.

While we understand that many people don’t want to deal with these issues until they have to, if you don’t, lots of bankruptcy attorneys won’t file these last-minute cases at all, concluding that a client who waits to file until it’s almost too late will require lots of urging to get things done in the case and won’t be a good client to work with. Others will charge a higher fee, since they need to rearrange their schedule and file sooner than they otherwise would.

There is also a problem in what we don’t know. By the time a typical (not emergency) case is filed, we have copies of bills, appraisals and valuations, property listings, creditor listings, credit reports, paystubs, tax returns, budgets, etc. We can properly advise our client about how best to proceed, and have a pretty good idea of what to expect during the case as a result.

But in an emergency filing, we usually don’t have this information. All that we have is usually a very hurried summary. The big problem is that “we don’t know what we don’t know.” We don’t know if there is something that would be disclosed in the questionnaire or documents. We don’t know about things that you didn’t tell us. And we don’t know whether there could be problems in your case as a result.

Personally, I will handle some emergency filings, depending on the reason and the details. We call these “thin” or “bare bones” petitions, and they contain the minimum information necessary to get the case filed and stop the foreclosure/garnishment/lawsuit. Detailed schedules need to be filed within two weeks, or the case will be dismissed. I also have the client sign a disclaimer, pointing out that we don’t have all of the information we need to evaluate the case.

How fast can we do this? I once had a client call at 8:30 am for a 10:30 am foreclosure that same day. (He had been out of the country for a number of months and came back to find the person who was to make his mortgage payments hadn’t, and a foreclosure notice in his mail.) He did the credit counseling in the car on the way to my office, and we filed in “plenty of time” to stop the foreclosure.

This, obviously, is the exception. Try to give your attorney enough time to do his or her job well, and you’ll have far fewer problems.

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Brett Weiss, a senior partner at Chung & Press, LLC, represents people and businesses in all phases of bankruptcy. He has experience in complex individual Chapter 7, Chapter 11 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases, and in Chapter 11 small business restructuring and reorganization. Mr. Weiss lectures nationally on bankruptcy issues. He has testified before the Federal Bankruptcy Rules Committee, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and has twice testified before Congress on bankruptcy and credit issues. Brett Weiss is the co-author of Chapter 11 for Individual Debtors, and has written Not Dead Yet: Bankruptcy After BAPCPA, for the Maryland Bar Journal, as well as hundreds of blogs for the Bankruptcy Law Network. With his law partner, he recorded a 13-hour basic bankruptcy training series, and leads intensive three-day Chapter 11 training boot camps. Mr. Weiss has received international media attention in connection with his work. He was interviewed by Barbara Walters on The View, has appeared on the Today Show, Good Morning America, ABC News with Peter Jennings, the Montel Williams Show, National Public Radio, AARP-TV, the BBC World Service, German state television, and numerous local radio and television programs, and been quoted in Money magazine, The Washington Post and The Baltimore Sun, among others. Brett Weiss is the Maryland State Chair for the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, a founding member of the Bankruptcy Law Network, on the board of the Maryland State Bar Consumer Bankruptcy Council, and a member of the American Bankruptcy Institute, the Bankruptcy Bar Association of Maryland, and the Civil Justice Network. He has been recognized as a “Super Lawyer” every year since 2007 for Maryland and the District of Columbia, and in 2011 received the Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys for his work on behalf of consumers across the country. Mr. Weiss is admitted to practice before Maryland and District of Columbia federal and state courts, the United States Courts of Appeals for the DC, Fourth and Eighth Circuits, The United States Tax Court, and the Supreme Court of the United States, and has been practicing law since 1983.
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