So You Want to File a Bankruptcy on Your Own in Texas, Do You?

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Bankruptcy is more than just filling out a few forms and filing them. One of the forms you file with your bankruptcy petition gives the warning that bankruptcy has serious long-term financial and legal consequences that include losing your property.

It goes on to say that the law allows you to represent yourself in bankruptcy court, but many people find it difficult to represent themselves successfully. It further warns that bankruptcy fraud is a serious crime, and you can be fined and imprisoned if you commit fraud in a bankruptcy case.

Because filing bankruptcy has such serious consequences, representing yourself can be a disaster
waiting to happen. A bankruptcy attorney will know how to steer around the pitfalls that a person representing himself or herself might not know about. Those pitfalls are many. I often have people tell me that they do not want to include a credit card, or they have a property in Bolivia worth $50,000 that they do not want include in their case. I explain to them that they have to disclose everything in their petition and schedules. I also explain that with proper bankruptcy planning prior to filing, they can avoid having to lose their property to the trustee. A person representing himself or herself is not going to know these things, and they could very well find themselves in hot water.

An experienced bankruptcy attorney can best help you prepare for your bankruptcy when he or she has all of the facts. Take for instance my client who failed to tell me he had about 30 guns, despite me asking if he owned any firearms. When we filed his case, these guns were not listed in his schedule. When he told me about them, I had to amend the schedules and add the guns, and I could only exempt two of them, which he was allowed to keep. The trustee had him bring the remaining 28 guns to his office. The trustee sold the guns and used the profit to pay some of the client’s creditors. If the client had told me about the guns beforehand, we could have planned for this, and my client could would have been able to at least keep the value of the guns instead of the value of the guns going to the trustee. Proper bankruptcy asset planning is critical in a successful bankruptcy, and if you are handling your own bankruptcy, you simply are not going to know many of the tactics that an experienced Arlington, Texas bankruptcy attorney is going to know.

An experienced bankruptcy attorney can also make a difference in a bankruptcy case where the debtor is borderline in being able to pass the means test. The means test basically states that if you are above the IRS median family income for your state, you may not file bankruptcy unless you pass a complicated formula. If you are not experienced in doing this, you might jeopardize your chances of receiving a chapter 7 discharge, and you might unnecessarily be forced into filing a chapter 13. This would cost you money that you might not necessarily have to pay had you hired an attorney to handle your case.

Another situation to avoid is hiring a person to prepare the paperwork for you. There are companies that you can hire online that will prepare the paperwork for you, and then have you file the paperwork on your own. The bankruptcy courts are very skeptical about petition preparation services, and will scrutinize your petition and schedules in great detail if you state that the paperwork was prepared by a petition preparation service. If you do not disclose that your paperwork was prepared by a petition preparation service and the trustee finds out about it, you could face serious consequences. The problem with these services is that they are performing legal services without actually being attorneys most of the time. When you file the paperwork, and it is incorrect or fraudulent, there is no one to hold responsible for the problem but you. If an attorney messes up your paperwork, the responsibility falls on him or her. He or she can be held liable for malpractice if they mess up your bankruptcy case.

The bottom line is that it is in your best interest to hire a bankruptcy attorney to handle your case for you.

Seth Crosland is an associate attorney for the Brandy Austin Law Firm. Seth was born and raised in Mesquite, Texas. He served in the United States Air Force for 6 years, and graduated from the University of Maryland while on active duty. After his honorable discharge in 2004, he attended the University of Arkansas School of Law and earned his J.D. in May of 2008. He focuses on the areas on bankruptcy, business law, and criminal defense.

Seth currently lives in Grapevine, Texas, and enjoys spending time outdoors, and cheering on the Arkansas Razorbacks, Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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