When you file for bankruptcy, you are required to provide a ton of information to the Court and the Trustee assigned to your case. Although it is true that no one is perfect, everyone makes mistakes, there are things about all of our lives that we frankly don’t know; none of that explains the multitude of phone calls I get from people who seem to know less about their lives than I do — and I haven’t even met them yet.
When I get a call from someone about filing for bankruptcy I begin by asking some basic questions — about how much debt, what kinds of debt (credit cards, medical bills, taxes, repo’s, pending law suits, student loans, child support), whether or not the person has been sued recently, have they filed their taxes, do they own their home, are they current on mortgages and car debt. I’m not looking for exact figures, but I do expect that people have a basic grasp on things.
When I get answers that don’t make sense, I start typing. I start with the Supreme Court’s online network that includes dockets for all Oklahoma District Courts. It is searchable by name. That shows me very quickly every lawsuit filed in the last ten or more years against someone (although, admittedly, when someone’s name is Tim Smith, this is less than helpful). Then, I check the County Assessor’s website for real property ownership records — again, searchable by name. Then, I check the County Clerk’s website for judgment liens, tax liens, transfer of real estate, mortgages and UCC-1 filing statements.
In just a couple of minutes I frequently know a lot more about the person I’m talking to then they seem to. I can’t count the number of people who tell me that they’ve never been sued — they are just having their wages garnished. Really? Sure, child support and some student loans can do a wage assignment or administrative garnishment without a lawsuit; but that is almost never the case. They just weren’t paying attention to the question, or they didn’t want to admit to it, or — something; and to a large extent it is my job to try and catch when a client isn’t paying attention and doesn’t answer something correctly or accurately; but there are limits to what I can do.
Ultimately, it is the client who signs bankruptcy papers. It is the client who can have his discharge denied for failure to disclose assets, or even liabilities. It is the client who can go to jail for bankruptcy fraud.
I understand that the events that frequently lead up to a bankruptcy filing are the kinds of things that get out of control and thinking about them can be at best depressing and at worst terrifying. Still, if you tell your lawyer about the garnishment summons your employer just got, your lawyer can help you get your case filed in time to stop it, notify the creditor to release it ASAP when the case is filed, possibly even help recover funds. If you tell your lawyer that your Mother has added your name to her house — to avoid probate, of course. In addition to helping you educate your Mother about better and safer options, your lawyer can help keep your Mother’s house out of your bankruptcy. If you tell your lawyer that you have been sued, your lawyer can help you determine whether or not you need to have judgment liens removed from your house.
Oh, and if you don’t tell your lawyer about these things, odds are very good that your Bankruptcy Trustee will find out about them. Of course, that will happen after the case is filed, and your hands will be pretty much tied.
So, if you find yourself thinking that you have more debt than you can pay. Stop. Take a deep breath — and think. Think about all the things you have been trying not to think about, because it is just all too foreign and overwhelming. Then, call a local bankruptcy lawyer for help; and be prepared to answer questions and ask questions until you are comfortable that you have disclosed everything you need to disclose.